Richard Prince’s Unitled (Cowboy) is an iconic photograph that refers to an iconic advertisement that refers to an iconic American role. The image is a palimpsest of meaning, and seems to acquire additional layers of resonance with every passing year.
Prince (b. 1949) is an American painter and photographer. He is usually referred to as an “appropriation artist,” because his most famous works are rephotographed photographs, some of which are physically or digitally altered. Most of his early material, such as the Marlboro advertisement used in Unitled (Cowboy) came from magazines, newspapers, printed advertisements, billboards, and television. Prince is attracted to suspicious narratives in widely circulate images; of his work, he has said, “I seem to go after images that I don’t quite believe. And, I try to re-present them even more unbelievably.” 
Untitled (Cowboy) is taken from the Cowboys series, arguably Prince’s most famous works. In the far right of the frame, a cowboy seated astride a galloping horse seems to race off the very edge of the image. The rest of the image is filled with blue sky and fluffy white clouds. Each image in the Cowboys series was taken from a Marlboro cigarette ad, a campaign known for its celebration of traditional American masculinity. Marlboro’s ads seemed to depict authentic scenes of masculine action replete with wide open spaces, blue skies, tumbleweeds, lassos, and ten-gallon hats.
Prince’s rephotographs call the authenticity of these scenes into question; because Prince’s image isn’t “real,” the viewer is asked to reconsider what makes any photograph “real.” In this case, was the Marlboro ad, which appeared to document a cowboy at work, really emblematic of a type? Or staged with models? And if this “authentic” American experience could be staged, was it truly “authentic” at all?
 Marvin Heiferman, “Richard Prince”, “BOMB Magazine”, Summer 1988.