Born 1954 in Galesburg, Illinois; lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, California
With canny clairvoyance, Stephen Prina makes art based on a self-conscious relationship to the past, present, and future. Using a variety of media, his work addresses the afterlife of artworks in art’s distribution channels: its institutions, its market, and its historiography. These shifting sites of art’s post-studio reception—frequently beyond the discharge of artists’ intentions—take center stage in Prina’s production. Prina has also released music through popular-music channels under his own name and as part of the band The Red Krayola.
The Second Sentence of Everything I Read Is You: Mourning Sex, 2005–07 (installation 2007), the second piece in a projected series of five, combines Prina’s musical interests with installation—areas of work the artist has kept separate during the last two and a half decades. “Conceived as a traveling spectacle—a mini- Broadway-musical-on-the-road or circus,” the installation is a mobile, blue-carpeted listening lounge, its exhibition crates doubling as viewing benches padded with cushions covered in a thick coat of matching blue paint. An incomplete grid of eight speakers on one wall amplifies Prina’s pop guitar textures, while a single separate and spotlighted speaker on another wall dramatically emphasizes the presence of the lonely, perhaps romantic vocal track: “The second sentence/ Of everything I read is you/ You’re probably the first person to get/Viewers to put part of a work/ In their mouths and suck on it/Oral gratification.” The lyrics are mouthed alone by Prina but are appropriated mostly from public testimonials by contributors—including Julie Ault and Tim Rollins—to a recent Felix Gonzalez-Torres monograph, whose muted blue cover reappears in the blue of Prina’s installation. Also marked across the gallery wall is the message “. . . things Felix forgot to tell us. . . .”
Prina’s monologue/dialogue refers to the tension between public and private recollections of artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957–1996), whose piles of wrapped candies in gallery and museum contexts (probably alluded to in the lyrics above) were freely given to, and eaten by, viewers. Gonzalez-Torres’s generous artistic approach also dispensed with art’s characteristic commodity relations—systemic realities about which his romantic approach remains mute.
In his installation, Prina puts a frame around personal and public eulogies, but also around the relationship between artistic intentions and the afterlife of objects. This gap, this deferred reception, is marked with change and loss: “The carpeting in [this] traveling work,” the artist notes, ”is not replaced or steam cleaned but allowed to accrue social residue across its pastel surface; any shipping scars to the crates will [also] remain.” Even the purest intentions fall away, the artist implies, and eventually, all that remains is a memory. And you can’t put your arms around a memory. TODD ALDEN
Stephen Prina, Sonic Dan, 1996. Performance, SO 36, Berlin, November 3, 1996. Photo courtesy David Brandt.