January 24 – February 28, 2015
I’ve now written two reviews of Ho, Ryder Ripps’s debut show at Postmasters. The first, in which I discussed the merits of the canvases, and how and why they were created, I chose to rewrite after I discovered that many pieces of information available about the show online (some of which factored into my original evaluation of the work), were fabricated by Ripps himself. More on this later.
Ho is so named for the “muse” behind the exhibition: a model, Adrienne Ho. Ho, the individual, is a particular type of model, one whose branding is done almost entirely within the world of social networking sites. She shills for streetwear companies who pay her to wear their apparel and post ad-hoc pictures of it on her profiles. Ripps suggests that Adrienne Ho is emblematic of a larger cultural trend in the way we choose to represent ourselves in the digital sphere. She also happens to have a last name that lends itself to the cheeky double entendre of the exhibition’s title.
For Ho, Ripps has taken iPhone screenshots of the model’s Instagram posts and digitally manipulated them with a liquefying photo-editing tool, the same type commonly used in post-production edits of fashion shoots to render models thinner and curvier (responsible, famously, for the hour-glass shape). He then converts these screenshots into painted canvases, all of which are square in format, like the cropped photos from which they were begat. But Ripps doesn’t attempt to replicate a digital interface. Instead, the paintings are large and intricate, exactingly produced. The app is not what’s in question here; Instagram is simply the platform by which photos form the foundation of digital identity and the artificial narratives constructed therein. Ripps is more interested in exploring the process by which this happens.
Ostensibly, Ho engages with the ways in which we portray women, tapping into the long history of the manipulation of images in the name of sex and advertisement. The canvases aestheticize the same contemporary notions of femininity they critique—the culturally normative expectation of female curviness represented here by the warped and water-like lines of the paintings, exaggerated to the point of parody. However, while those elements do occur in Ripps’s paintings, they are not present in any way or to any degree that doesn’t exist in other painters’ more successful explorations of the same themes. John Currin comes to mind, as does Lisa Yuskavage and Richard Prince’s “Nurse” paintings.
But the paintings themselves aren’t really what is on display in Ho. Instead, they act as a kind of straw man, a distraction from what is actually happening. So too does the press release and much of the publicity (some from Ripps, some in response to it), which has yielded so much attention. The story behind the show has since taken on a life of its own. Ripps initially claimed, and others subsequently wrote, that he used Jeff Koons’s assistants to create the work. Not true. (Though he did make a point to correct this.) It was also reported that Ripps received threats against his person before the show. True. That Ripps was behind this threat—not true. Ultimately, it’s impossible to distinguish the truth from the fiction, the line between the two blurred like the ones in his paintings of Adrienne Ho—and that’s part of his point.
On one hand, Ripps is providing commentary on the pre-packaged narratives of curated exhibitions. On the other, he can just as easily be accused of goading viewers, eliciting knee-jerk responses, even (or especially) if they’re negative—a kind of no press is bad press strategy. Specifically, the theme of the male gaze knowingly tempts critiques of misogynist tendencies. This is something Ripps has done before, his blogs and profiles littered with controversial images of women, his previous work—such as his much-maligned “ART WHORE” project late last year—begging backlash. But this series, when considered in conjunction with the narratives behind it—be they true or false—as well as the contrapuntal digital elements at play, appears more thought out than his previous projects.
As writers and artists like Katrina Sluis, Daniel Rubenstein, and Hito Steryl have written, the relationship between the camera and the digital image has never been more disconnected as it is with phone photography. Camera phones, with their small and inadequate lenses, don’t so much record visual information as they do interpret it, taking it in and creating a picture based not only on what is in front of it, but also on a complex algorithm that uses the metadata of other pictures; in other words, it creates a picture based on what it “thinks” you want to see. Ho intelligently enlarges and exaggerates this dynamic, using it as a metaphor for the ways in which we think about ourselves in relationship to technology and the image-making process, the way we craft avatars of ourselves and form artificial narratives that now have so many pages upon which to sit.
Ripps, part artist, part performer, part Internet troll, is playing with the various narratives that surround the show. In doing so, he echoes the same themes of the work on the walls: the artificiality of digital identities, the authenticity of viral information, and the fact that all of this, the arguments, the press, isn’t happening in the galleries anyway; it’s occurring online, where Ripps seems to feel much more comfortable in the first place.