March 25, 2016
'Ho' paintings part of American Real in Reinberger
By Karen Sandstrom
Ryder Ripps is on the phone from his design loft in Long Island. Toward the end of a lengthy interview, he mentions that he can’t fully commit to the dream of art fame. In the information age, stars of all stripes have to play for hearts on Instagram.
“I guess I’m scared of the ‘attention economy’ because I think it’s making people dumb,” Ripps says.
The sentiment is startling, coming from the 29-year-old web wunderkind. He has some 16,000 Instagram followers and a few headline-grabbing projects under his belt. His point isn’t that he can’t play to the fans, it’s that he sees it as soul killing.
“It’s actually pretty easy to game people’s attention, if you’re willing to compromise their intellect,” he recently wrote under an Instagram picture of a vintage National Enquirer headline screaming “Man Eats Dogs” in huge type. (The tabloids served up clickbait before there were clicks.)
Now Ripps is coming to Cleveland. He is one of three artists represented in the new exhibition American Real on view April 1 through May 8 in the Reinberger Gallery at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Curated by gallery director Bruce Checefsky, the show includes paintings from Ripps’ controversial series Ho. Works by photographer Chris Verene and sculptor Monica Cook round out the exhibition. The three will be at a reception 6:30 to 9 p.m. April 1.
Defining Ripps can be slippery. An endlessly quoted 2014 New York Times story referred to him as “the consummate Internet cool kid,” and there’s plenty of evidence to back that. Ad Age and the Washington Post have written about him, along with numerous tech and cultural online sites. But as Ripps well knows, cool comes and goes. Meanwhile, there are photos and websites and installations to make.
New York born and raised, Ripps is the son of Helene Verin and painter Rodney Ripps, whose career soared internationally for a time in the late 70s and 80s before leveling out. That crash left the elder Ripps somewhat bitter, his son says, and sent a message about the heartbreak that can attend the hope of stardom.
Ryder discovered computers as a kid, before the word geek was a compliment. “My parents were getting divorced when I was 9, and I felt pretty alienated as a person. I had like one friend,” he says. “Computers were my escape.”
He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the New School, and then formed the creative digital agency OKFocus with partner Jonathan Vingiano. Among the firm’s many noted projects: a rogue app called the Drake Shake (it imposes a photo of Canadian rapper Drake on one of your pictures when you shake your phone); Nike Feel London (a custom website for a Nike art initiative); and Kenzo No Fish No Nothing, a 3D website highlighting the perils of overfishing.
Art was always there, too. He founded an art-sharing site called Dump.fm., and has been part of a number of biennials and group exhibitions, including one that actor Val Kilmer attended — and left without buying.
In November 2014, Ripps created Art Whore, in which he hired two “sensual massage” workers to visit his hotel room and draw whatever they wanted for an hour while he filmed them. Cartoon flowers and penises emerged on paper. He paid them each $80, posted the drawings and a video, and immediately fell under a storm of criticism by some who regarded the piece as exploitive. A headline on the ArtFCity site: “Ryder Ripps’s ART WHORE In the Running For Most Offensive Project of 2014.”
A few months later, Postmasters Gallery debuted Ho, his first solo exhibition. Six of those paintings (four canvases plus a diptych) are part of American Real.
The paintings derive from images of Adrianne Ho, who models for big brands on her Instagram lifestyle feed. Ripps pulled pictures off her site and digitally distorts them into funhouse-mirror grotesques. Then he hired production painters to turn the warped images into oil paintings (each about 6 feet square).
Writing for the feminist site Jezebel, critic Sandra Song accused the work of erasing “Adrianne's years of strength training and marathons, replacing her powerful physique with nothing more than a Miyazaki-esque monster.”
But Ripps frames his interest in the project quite differently. “I was just personally fascinated by this cyclical process of posting things and then creating identity,” Ripps says. “[It’s] the idea that we’re asked to upload a profile picture, and that’s supposed to represent us, then we’re supposed to add to the feed.”
How many “likes” a post gets becomes an accounting system — shorthand for judging others and ourselves. Ripps argues that judging each other on these curated identities is harmful. “It’s a total misrepresentation, and yet it is becoming the whole representation for people who we are not able to meet in real life,” he says.
As part of his fascination with the phenomenon, Ripps started noticing “all these microcelebrities on Instagram.” Ho, he decided, was a great example. “There was something very surreal about her photos, maybe because they’re more in the vein of street fashion. In that respect, the shots are intended to pantomime reality, but they’re extremely orchestrated and posed.”
Twisting the images and turning them into big paintings came out of “a desire to break out of the 4-inch screen,” he says.
Ripps is fascinated by that screen as well as the larger feed. He thinks about what this neck-craning assault of visuals is doing to the traditional experience of art.
“I’ve always felt in my own work that making work about the Internet and putting it in a gallery does not feel like the Internet,” he says. “It doesn’t have that volatility and the serendipity. To me, the Internet is evolving constantly, bombarding you, constantly changing, but it’s always vying for your attention. And it’s inconsistent. You might see some beautiful image of some art that you like, then the next image you’ll see is Donald Trump.”
That’s not to say that he minds having gallery shows; just that the 24-hour scroll is changing viewers along with what’s viewed. “Now, I look at a museum the way I look at an Internet feed,” he says. “The one that gets my attention is the one I will qualify as best.”
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