Stephen Prina

born 1954 in Galesburg, Illinois; lives in Los Angeles and Cambridge, Massachusetts


1977: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Northern Illinois University

1978–1980: Masters of Art (painting and composition) at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts), studying under Michael Asher

1980–2003: Instructor, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California

1992: Participation in documenta IX

Since 2004: Professor at Harvard

2008: Participation in the Whitney Biennale

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

Stephen Prina’s paintings, performances, installations, films, and photographs are basically bound by a conceptual approach. As a former student of Michael Asher, he ironically describes himself as a post-conceptualist, or speaks of »impure conceptual art« which only remains bound to the historical movement through dedicated deviations.

His works are characterized by an analytical engagement with works by other artists, which he transforms using criteria he created himself or subjects to systematic principles of categorization, re-presenting them in other contexts. Using this form of appropriation, he reflects on the conditions of production and reception as well as the historically changing conditions under which meaning is attributed. He also incorporates the works into personal narratives.


In his series titled The Exquisite Corps: The Complete Paintings of Manet, begun in 1988 and ongoing to this day, Prina refers to the impressionist painter’s 556-work oeuvre. Here, he literally »empties« the pieces he references by only referring to their format and replacing their contents with monochromatic surfaces of sepia ink. He then combines these 1:1 transfers with an index, which he published as an edition, and on which the formats of all of Manet’s paintings are lined up in reduced scale and numbered according to their chronology. This allows him to reintegrate the individual works into the context of the entire oeuvre and makes their position (in terms of title, period of origin, owner, etc.) clear. In exhibitions, he usually shows three such combinations. In this way, he not only contextualizes Manet’s paintings within the latter’s oeuvre but also recontextualizes them within the specific structure of the particular presentation.

The installation, As He Remembered It, was created for an exhibition in the Vienna Secession in 2011. Here he rebuilt twenty-eight pieces of furniture from two houses that no longer exist, designed in the 1940s by the architect Rudolph Schindler (1887–1953), who originated in Vienna but worked in Los Angeles. The trigger for the work was a »random« encounter between the artist and a desk designed by Schindler that he saw in a shop window in Los Angeles. The former owner had pulled this built-in piece of furniture from its context and painted the »fragment« pink. Following this appropriation, Prina painted all of the rebuilt and formerly built-in furniture from the Schindler houses that had been torn down in the same pink—»Pantone Honeysuckle 2011 Color of the Year«—and, using a special grid, arranged them closely together as if in a furniture warehouse.

Author: Lena Nieper



Stephen Prina is in some ways better known as a musician than as a visual artist. He started playing guitar in his native Galesburg. When he moved to Los Angeles in 1978 to study at the California Institute of the Arts, he met Mike Kelly and Kelly’s wife, the choreographer Anita Pace, and together they created the 1982 performance Beat of the Traps.

His music was always latently present in his visual works, and in the 1990s he made a decisive shift to musical performance, one manifestation of which was the band »The Red Krayola,« with whom he recorded the album Fingerpainting.

In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Stephen Prina

Sonic Dan, 1994

The Mackey House (MAK), Los Angeles, 2001, with Stephen Prina, 1:31:04 h.

Film: Anita Pace

Sonic Dan, premiered in Luna Park, Los Angeles, in 1994, is a groundbreaking work for Prina. In this first solo work, he transfers his conceptual strategies to the medium of musical performance. Sonic Dan connects high and pop culture in order to highlight the differences between them, while at the same time making them obsolete. A recording of the string quartets by Anton von Webern at the beginning is followed by songs from the avant-garde pop music band Sonic Youth and the California jazz-rock band Steely Dan, which Prina appropriates by singing them himself.

In 2001, this work was recorded in the courtyard behind the Mackey House in Los Angeles, which was designed by Rudolph Schindler and is now used by the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) as a residence for visiting artists and as an exhibition space. The video does not show the musician but two Minnie and Mickey Mouse figures dressed up as astronauts in silver jumpsuits with rainbows dancing to disco. Prina himself often wears jumpsuits when performing. The figures come from the extensive Disney collection owned by the artist Felix Gonzales-Torres and were bequeathed to Prina. During the performance, they stand on Prina’s Fender Rhodes electric piano, creating a relationship to the performance location where a Gonzales-Torres light installation was part of the exhibition at the time.


Lena Nieper