For me this represents one of the high points of post-modernism. This is a copy (a digital image) of a copy (a photograph) by Prince of a copy (a printed advertisement) of a myth (the cowboy). Text from Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art “Perpetually disappearing into the sunset, this lone ranger is also a convincing stand-in for the artist himself, endlessly chasing the meaning behind surfaces. Created in the fade-out of a decade devoted to materialism and illusion, Untitled (Cowboy) is, in the largest sense, a meditation on an entire culture’s continuing attraction to spectacle over lived experience.”
In other words this is a reflection of American culture which during the 1980’s was obsessed with style over substance when consumerism was at its height. Prince directly re-used slick advertising imagery and subverted it, highlighting how photography is used to promote aspirational dreams and illusions.
Similar techniques were used by postcard publishers to make Britain’s unpredictable weather seem like perpetual perfect blue skies. In some ways the humble picture postcard is the UK equivalent of the Marlboro man adverts.