Sunday, June 26, 2016

Richard Prince | The Catcher in the Rye

Richard Prince
The Catcher in the Rye
New York City, USA: American Place, 2011
[unpaginated], 5.5 x 8", hardcover with dust jacket
Edition of 500

In the fall of 2011, Richard Prince went to the corner of Fifth Avenue, between 78th and 79th Street, just outside of Central Park, to sell some books. He sat on a park bench next to a blanket with a dozen copies of The Catcher in the Rye.

They were all brand new, just back from the printers in Iceland (apparently it was tricky to find someone willing to undertake the project), still shrink-wrapped. The book is a facsimile of JD Salinger's classic 1951 novel, with only two changes:  Prince's name has been substituted for Salinger’s, and the author's photograph was removed from the back cover.

The only other difference was the price: it was sixty-two dollars - double the cost of the reissue of the original that was then-available at bookstores. If a buyer asked for the book to be initialed, Prince would happily oblige. But if one wanted it signed by the artist, the price was seventy-five thousand dollars. Inscribed copies would be available only for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

"I know… crazy", Prince noted in a blog post a couple of years later, "But these “premium” prices weren’t arbitrary. They were in line with what you would normally pay for a real Catcher In The Rye if the Catcher was a first edition and it was signed or inscribed. As far as anybody knows there’s never been an inscribed Catcher with a dust jacket. Ever. Not a single one has been recorded or sold. The Library of Congress doesn’t have one. The Morgan. The Rare Book Division of the New York Public Library. Never, no one, anywhere. In forty years of collecting rare books I’ve never come across a Cather that’s has the whole package. Signature, inscription, unrestored dust jacket. I’m still looking. Waiting. Hoping. Holy grail."

Unsigned or initialled copies of Prince's appropriation now sell for upwards of two-thousand dollars, only a few years later.

In the photograph below, Prince is joined by his friend James Frey, who reportedly began hawking copies of the book with the passion of a bible salesman, selling five in ten minutes. A couple of years prior Prince designed a cover for a limited edition version of Frey's novel Bright Shiny Morning. In 2013, Frey contributed a text to Prince's Cowboys catalogue.

He is best known for his 2003 memoir A Million Little Pieces. In 2005, the title was chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection, after which it topped the New York Times Best Seller list for fifteen straight weeks.

Following the Oprah appearance, The Smoking Gun began looking for a mug shot of the author to publish on their website. After a six-week long investigation, the site published an article in January of 2006, titled "A Million Little Lies". The article described fabrications in Frey's account of his drug abuse experiences, life, and criminal record.

On January 26, 2006, Frey re-appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where the host ambushed the author and his publisher, announcing that she felt "really duped", and "more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers."

It would have been quite a performance to stumble across in the park: a brazen act of copyright infringement (coming just after Prince lost a court case over his use of a Patrick Cariou photograph for his Canal Zone work) accompanied by the author of one of the most famous recent acts of literary forgery.

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