Within four months, artist and creative director Ryder Ripps went from being heralded as "the consummate internet cool kid" by the New York Times to getting accused of making possibly the most offensive artwork of the year. The thing that got so many people upset was Art Whore, the tech wunderkind's most recent art project, where he hired two escorts to make paintings in his stead during a branded artist-in-residence program for the Ace Hotel.
Just a few months later, the founder of OKFocus may be causing another stir in the art world with his first solo show, Ho. The exhibition opens this Saturday at Postmasters Gallery in Manhattan and is comprised of a series of large-scale paintings of manipulated photos of the model Adrianne Ho that were appropriated from her Instagram.
Ripps chose Ho as his muse because her internet presence occupies a complicated space between exposition and documentation. She's one of those people who gets paid by brands like Nike and Supreme to post photos not as a traditional model, but as herself. Her Instagram account embodies the idea that in today's technological landscape we can curate our personas and create a faux realism for other people to make what Ripps calls a "constant reflexive feedback loop of ego."
The warped images of Ho are meant to nod towards the aggressive painting practices of actionist painters like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. They also help ground him as a conceptual artist, since he hired some of Jeff Koons's assistants to do all the actual painting (some may see this move as trolling, while others will likely mock it as a gaudy attempt at self-canonization). Ripps believes the digital-to-physical process of this series represents "the new site of aggression and anxiety in the age of the 'virtual male gaze,' where the archetypal macho painter has been emasculated," because he sees Ho as the one in power as she has more social media followers than him.
This claim may raise eyebrows, considering Ripps has turned Adrianne Ho into a literal object and he is the one dictating the conversation about her online presence. But to me, the work is more interesting than just an angsty tantrum about suppressed manhood. It's the artist's personal meditation on identity in the age of the internet. Even if Ripps's dialogue around the work is problematic, as music critic Jon Carmanica once wrote in a review of Cam'ron's rap classic Purple Haze, "The avant-garde need not be moral."
I recently met with the artist to get some intimate insight on Ho. Between arguments about King Louie songs and countless tangents, our talk convinced me that he is one of the most passionate and consistently interesting artists working today—even when he's being flippant or boyishly offensive.
VICE: How do you imagine the public will reply to this exhibition?
Ryder Ripps: I think some people are going to love it. I think some people are going to hate it. And I'm not scared.
You have a penchant for pissing people off—like that tweet you recently published referencing Charlie Hebdo.
Yeah. I wrote a tweet about the fact that people attacking me for Art Whore leads to the type of extremism that drives people to kill. I still believe that. I think we live in a free country and everything, but there's no actual malice—and I mean this in my heart—behind my work. I'm not trying to hurt anybody. I am not a misogynist. I don't think women are subhuman. I don't think Adrianne Ho represents all women. It's not about that for me. It's about sexuality. It's about emotion. And I'm not scared to have that exuded in the expressions that I make.
I saw on your website that you manipulated a work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in a similar fashion to what you've done with Adrianne Ho. How is that project connected to this new exhibition?
The whole idea of Bernini is realism, hyper-realism, but this was before screens existed. You look at an image of a Bernini sculpture, and how do you experience the realism of that image in a way that Bernini would have intended? That realism to me is an aggressive thing. The images of rape that he creates, the Pieta, these religious images—they're all very emotional, very human experiences about things that get to the root of who we are fundamentally. But who we are fundamentally has changed a great deal since 1500, you know? So what I'm trying to do with that series is capture the things that Bernini might have been trying to achieve, but in a modern context and in a realer way.
Most people think about abstraction as a farce, or something that's removed from reality. They think about it as a hallucination of reality. But I would argue that abstraction, when done well, is realer than reality—realer than an image, or a photograph. Abstraction captures an emotion, whereas reality is more than just a still life or a snapshot. It's constantly in flux.
Tell me about your term "corny-core" that's described in the slideshow attached to this exhibition.
To me, corny-core is very much about sentiment—unlike the term "basic," which is derogatory, or "normcore," which is more of a reference to aesthetics. Corny-core is about a sense of sentimentality and emotion that is supposed to be conveyed through a photograph. You stage a photo—it's like how Instagram filters are supposed to bring mood and inject a feel. Beyond nostalgia, the different filters have different moods and different emotions attached to them. And that aspect alone is very corny-core. Backlighting is very corny-core. Adding a glow to something is very corny-core. The whole aspect of "I'm exuding emotion"—being emotional and normal is corny-core. It's forced realism.
When people pose for a selfie, it's an exercise of self-awareness and an exercise of uncomfortability. It's like you pose for a selfie and you're saying "I'm uncomfortable with my own skin." It's this staged reality.
So Adrienne Ho, she triggered this idea for you?
Yes, she's like the quintessence of corny-core. There are lots of other examples of people who represent this idea, but nothing as consistent as Adrienne Ho. She's a very succinct and focused example of this one particular mode of creation of self-representation online.
Also, I like her connections to streetwear, and I like the idea that she's mediating herself and her identity, who she really is—Adrienne Ho, that's her name, it's not fake—and is willing to bend herself around brands. What's interesting to me about that is the aspect of how we can alter or create realism for other people—curate personas.
If you asked me to sponsor your brand and be real, it would be really interesting to see how I'd do that. My own idea of who I am and how to achieve realness as a paid gig is the most honest thing, because the actual branded thing would ultimately be a lie, an imagination. It's a constructed farce of reality. And it's also a projected farce because it's how you perceive a client would want you to be. It's your imagined self for another person. It's when you put your own head in someone else's head and then think about yourself.
So with Adrienne Ho, where do you think real-life identity stops and her online persona begins?
I've never met her, so I don't know. To me, my renderings of her images are more real than her photos. Of course she's a real person, but we've all turned ourselves into images. We've chosen how to mediate our own realities—this isn't true only for her, this is true for almost everyone. Life now is a constant reflexive feedback loop of ego. You're constantly being confronted with the reflection with yourself in a way that you weren't before. Especially if you're someone who's notable online, your reality is your online presence.
You've previously talked about how the discrepancy between Ho's documentation and exposition made you feel weird. As a result, you wanted to aggressively manipulate her through digital methods. Why did it make you feel like that?
She's a beautiful woman. I knew her images were the deduction of something I've been feeling across the board with what we just discussed, which is the representation of ourselves online. I knew she did an extremely good job at offering me the extract of that. Why I was drawn to her and started manipulating her image? To be honest, it wasn't a calculated thing. It was an impulsive thing. So when I think about impulsive desires and art, I think of action painting.
But you've said the actionist painters' whole masculinity archetype within art is irrelevant today.
It is irrelevant.
But then you go back and reference the archetype again.
Picasso didn't reference any of the mistresses he depicted. He just said "The whores of fucking Paris," or whatever. This whole thing is an ode to Adrianne Ho. The whole show is named after her. I'm devoting all this work to her. In many ways, the males who follow Adrianne Ho, me included, are doting on her. We're doting on her beauty, we're doting on her mystique. And we're doting on the composition of her images intrinsically.
This is your first solo show and it's called Ho. Whether it was intended or not, it's a double entendre. People are going to immediately zone in on that.
OK, I'm going to tell you something. When I was 11 years old, I saw an image called "Goatse" online. This was before social media. Back in the day, people used to email each other a link and be like, "Check this out," akin to Rickrolling or something like that. So there's this fucking image called Goatse on a fucking website with no explanation and it had a picture of a guy ripping his fucking asshole open with a wedding ring on. You didn't see his face. And that was it, on this nondescript URL. Goatse, what does that mean? I have no idea. I was 11. So, to me, shock value and the internet and all that stuff is a fucking game. They played me. I clicked on this thing. I got shocked. I had never seen a guy rip open his asshole before, and it was crazy and weird.
For me, the internet and shock value and pushing the boundaries of social norm is all wrapped up in one. You can't do the internet without doing that. So to me, doing things that are "controversial," or whatever, or calling it Ho—which is just her name—is gaming it. Of course I'm gaming it. And if you're getting mad at it, you don't know about the internet—and I wish you did!
Because that's what I'm trying to talk about. I'm trying to talk about Chris Ofili. I'm trying to talk about the show Sensation at the Brooklyn Museum. I'm trying to talk about fucking Damien Hirst. I'm trying to talk about shock value and the fact that y'all are still not over any of it. I'm naming the show Ho because that's the name of the woman who I am putting on a pedestal. That's the name of my muse. That's the name of the most beautiful person who's deserving of an entire fucking art show. And meanwhile you're obsessed with this one word. It's so old-school, you know? To me, that's just natural. It should be so obvious. Calling something Art Whore? That's just so obvious. Of course I'm trying to fucking ruffle feathers—and it's working! It's great.
In your slideshow, you say at the end of the day Adrianne Ho is still winning because she has more followers than you. Ultimately, don't you win? You're controlling this conversation about her identity. And why is it even about winning?
Because that's so much about the current mode of everything. We refresh our Instagram to see who follows us. Our value as human beings is about that. And it sucks and I'm a part of that. Maybe I'm perpetuating it, but I'm saying that I personally am a victim of it. My Instagram followers grew from 7.1k to 7.2k today and that actually made me feel good. Like really good. And that's so fucked up. It's so stupid. It means nothing. It has nothing to do with anything. Meanwhile, I didn't call my mom back today after she called. Am I good person? No, I'm a fucking shit person who didn't call my mom back. I should call her back. But I got 7.2k, I got 7.2k! I validate myself through that.
That's what I mean by saying she wins. A lot of people have more followers than me. She'll always win. And more people will know about her presence after this show who not might normally be interested. If people look at my art and hate her—which I don't think they will—I think the alterations of her project more on me, and my internal dialogue with the world, than they do on her.
If Adrianne Ho were at the exhibition, how do you think she'd reply?
I want her to know I'm not making fun of her. I really am not. Nor do I think what she does is gross or bad. I respect her and what she does. I just think it's worth commenting on. It's the state of the world. What she should be flattered by is that she represents a segment of the world—a huge chunk of what's going on in the past four years on Instagram and with human identity and technology. She represents the deduction of it.
I didn't invent her face. I didn't invent her motive. I didn't invent her existence or personification on the internet. I didn't invent any of those things. I didn't take the photos. I manipulated them in a way that is more realistic to my brain.
And that being said, I'm not angry at that thing. I'm not angry that people get sponsored by brands. I'm not angry that people have personas online that they live out. I'm not angry that people pose pictures. I'm not angry at any of those things. All I'm doing is saying it's a reality. And it's something that's historically significant. And for me, it's not that I'm mad at her. I'm in love with her succinct representation of something timely. The fact that anyone can see our curated "realities" on a universal stage makes us think more.
Is this what you want people to think about when they come to your show?
The anxiety of this, yes. I'm altering the image to make her anxious because I feel anxious. When I take a picture of myself I feel anxious. This is the image that has to represent it. I'm self-conscious. I'm nervous. I'm scared. I'm scared! I'm scared of being me. I'm scared to have to fucking look down and commit to this fucking image. I'm scared to commit to this personification of who I am. It's ridiculous.
Ho will be on display at PostMasters from January 24 through February 28. For more information, visit the gallery's website here.
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