Last year, at the height of the NFT craze, Ryder Ripps released Bored Ape Yacht Club, despite the unsettling images in the collection. The 10,000 Cartoon Apes series was full of the style of internet memes, but if you spend enough time on the internet, you get used to it. A few months later, a friend showed him the logo for the collection next to the Totenkopf, which is a skull and crossbones symbol from Nazi Germany. He realized all of a sudden that The Apes, which is popular right now and being heavily promoted by crypto-hawking celebrities, could be a smart, malicious troll.
Ripps, a 36-year-old conceptual artist and creative director who has worked with famous musicians like Kanye West and Grimes and companies like Nike, Red Bull, and Gucci, said, “I realized this shit was intentional.” They are making the internet worse.
Since December, Ripps has attacked Greg Solano, Wiley Aronow, Kerem Atalay, and Zeshan Ali, as well as Yuga Labs, the company’s parent company, which is currently worth $4 billion.
Ripps says that everything about BAYC, from its logo to the Apes’ accessories like “sushi chef headbands” with “kamikaze” written in Japanese kanji and spiked Prussian Pickelhaube helmets, is racist and has ties to the online alt-right. Ripps and Yuga Labs are in a legal dispute because the company sued the artist for making fake NFTs that Ripps says are meant to make fun of the collection. (Yuga Labs and BAYC have already shot down the claims of racism.)
Ripps has taken on the role of Laocoon, the priest who begged the Trojans not to let the Greek horse into the city, to warn that Yuga’s founders are trying to sneak harmful images and ideas into the larger culture by making it look like just another silly but harmless NFT collection. But is he the best person to tell him to be careful?
When asked why he was so sure Solano, Aronow, and their copies were trolls, Ripps laughed. “It takes one to know one,” he said.
During the 2010s, many New Yorkers thought of Ripps as a cheeky prankster who brought the worst of the internet into an art gallery. He did this to make fun of identity politics and tease women. Along with Petra Cortright, DIS, and Amalia Ulman, he was an annoyingly famous artist who took part in the Post-Internet art movement, which tried to bring Web 1.0 and 2.0 aesthetics into white-cube spaces. The popular image-sharing website Dump.fm and the well-known archive website Internet Archaeology are both things he has done.
But Ripps’ controversial performance “Ho,” which was shown at Postmasters Gallery in 2015, may have been the one that made the biggest impression.
Magda Sawon, the founder of Postmasters and Ripps’ gallerist, told ARTnews at the gallery’s Tribeca location just weeks before it closed, ““What you need to understand about Ryder is that he’s always very early,I think he was one of the first ones to be let go,”
For “Ho,” Ripps made ten large oil portraits of model and fitness influencer Adrianne Ho based on her Instagram posts. In the paintings, it looks like Ho has been changed or Photoshopped. With Sandra Song of Jezebel calling Ripps a “forum troll who grew up in chat rooms and knows how to get attention,” the show quickly caused a firestorm online. Song then criticized Ripps for choosing Ho, “a beautiful woman who makes exercise and self-love glamorous and enviable,” to “visually warp.”
His earlier work, ART WHORE, from 2014, got even worse reviews. He was given a one-night residency at the Ace Hotel in New York City. With the $50 they gave him, he hired two masseuses from Craigslist to paint in the hotel room. Ripps says that the move was meant to poke fun at the Ace’s residency.
Critics had a different opinion, saying that he was part of a larger culture that exploits sex workers in the art world and online. Zing Tsjeng wrote that it was the same old story:“It’s the same old story: a white dude co-opting someone else’s labour in his struggle to Make A Point. Nothing new about that,” it said, and linked to several tweets criticizing the project, from Red Scare’s Dasha Nekrasova to Rhizome’s official account, saying “@ryder ripps @rhizome ur not illuminating realities of sex work ur being a cynical hateful creep.” Things sure have changed.
“There were many accusations of being careless and sexist. Sawon said, with her bulldogs at her feet, “The reviews were just terrible. One raised an eyebrow in worry. “I dare you to look at these paintings now. Seven years later, you’ll see, they are fantastic paintings.”
In 2022, it seems unlikely that many people will go to such lengths to defend a fitness influencer as a self-love role model. But the time of his performance was right when a lot of angry women were about to blow. The first episode of the show came out not long after Rolling Stone apologized for an article about a rape at the University of Virginia that has since been taken down. It also came out in the middle of Gamergate, a year-long campaign of harassment on social media against female video game journalists.
Gamergate was a turning point in the history of the internet. It led to the rise of the social justice warriors, who policed what they saw as violations of the politically correct mainstream, and the trolls, who were seen as white male losers who hung out on 4chan and Reddit. Ripps walked on stage just in time to be cast as the bad white man. To put it simply, it was a very bad year to be a woman on the internet.
Ripps agreed that calling it “Ho” was bait. “But it was intentional bait. I was commenting on the nature of this new mediascape and clickbait. I guess that went over people’s heads, since they were more interested in calling me a terrible person.”
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