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by Lavinia Filippi
On Friday, June 20, 2008, the Gagosian Gallery on Via Francesco Crispi in Rome inaugurated its exhibition of Richard Prince’s "Four Blue Cowboys" with an opening reception, followed by a small dinner for 150 intimate friends at Il Bolognese, a famous, classic Roman restaurant in Piazza del Popolo.

The artist and his dealer showed up rather late at the event, in notably casual dress, having just come from London, where an exhibition of Prince’s "Nurse" paintings from 2006 had debuted the night before.

Prince’s Roman cowboys date from 1998-99, and belong to the series "Four Blue Cowboys, Mountain Cowboys and Silhouette." The images are lush and pastoral, beautiful landscapes that could hardly be more different than the world-famous picture of Italy’s own "Wild West," the parched desert of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns (the minimalist mise-en-scène of which is derived, of course, from Spain’s Andalucia region).

An Italian online gossip magazine called Prince a "genius," saying that "it’s very chic" to be able to "rephotograph Marlboro commercials without their ad copy, and sell them for €200,000."

Prince’s exhibition is the third show presented by Gagosian Gallery Rome. Ed Ruscha’s exhibition at the Palazzo Borghese, where Gagosian had its Rome office, opened three years ago, on June 4, 2005. And the vernissage for Cy Twombly’s exhibition, "Three Notes from Salalah," was held at Via Francesco Crispi on Dec. 15, 2007.

The Twombly opening made a remarkable splash in the press. Both Rome’s mayor and minister of culture attended, only to be subsequently accused of misunderstanding the fact that this venue, however illustrious, was nevertheless private and commercial and not institutional or cultural. Since then, the Italian government has changed once again and thus also the mayor of Rome.

Following the Twombly show, the gallery avoided any kind of celebration for "Georg Baselitz / Damien Hirst," the second exhibition held in the via Francesco Crispi gallery, which opened this spring, Apr. 22-June 7, 2008. For the show an impressive painting from Baselitz’s 2007 "Remix" series was discretely displayed at the entrance of the gallery, while the main exhibition space was hung with a group of Hirst’s butterflies on canvas.

Hirst’s nine large framed pictures, measuring about ten feet tall, truly transformed the already magnificent exhibition space into a contemporary gothic cathedral. Still, in the absence of a glamorous opening or a fancy party announcing the show, it passed practically unnoticed.

For the opening of Prince, many people from the Roman art world were present, as were some unfailing local socialites. Undeniably, Gagosian Gallery’s small exhibitions are stimulating and instructive for Rome’s art scene -- even more so now that the press has calmed down about the arrival of one of the most powerful contemporary art dealers in the world.

Not only do we now have the opportunity to see important contemporary artworks right next door, but we are also able to drop Gagosian’s name when someone asks, "How is the contemporary art scene in Rome?"

"Richard Prince: Four Blue Cowboys," June 20-Aug. 8, 2008, at Gagosian Gallery, Via Francesco Crispi 16, 00187 Rome

LAVINIA FILIPPI is an art critic based in Rome.