Artist Ryder Ripps has recently come under fire in his own medium—the Internet. His controversial piece ART WHORE, a project staged at the Ace Hotel as part of the hotel's Artists in Residence series, has received heavy criticism online, mostly from Facebook comments, tweets, and an article in Art F City, titled "Ryder Ripps’s ART WHORE In the Running For Most Offensive Project of 2014."
Rhizome, an organization that supports contemporary art, tweeted:
But what about Ripps' new project has caused the art community to turn so suddenly against him? As part of the Ace Hotel's Artists in Residency series, Ripps was given a free night at the hotel and $50 to spend on art supplies. He took the opportunity to stage a quasi-performance piece, inviting people from Craigslist's "casual encounters" section to the hotel to create paintings and drawings. Ripps made it very clear in his correspondence (which you can read in full on his livejournal) that he did not want sexual favors, and the people who answered Ripps' emails consented to be involved in the project and knew that they would be filmed.
Ripps paid the people he found on Craigslist $80 each for 45 minutes of drawing and painting, and many critics have claimed that Ripps "exploited" them. Although not all the criticism is specific, I assume that people have a problem with the fact that Ripps used Craigslist masseuses to create work which he will financially benefit from. But is this really a singular issue? Many of the biggest artists today, including Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and (most famously) Damien Hirst, rely on assistants who don't reap the benefits of their high auction prices. The fact that Ripps did not give the Ace Hotel the canvases produced during ART WHORE suggests that he may sell his works eventually, but if he doesn't, where does the exploitation come in?
In their scathing article, Art F City lists the problematic assumptions Ripps made to create ART WHORE: "It’s completely acceptable to identify and define other people solely as 'sex workers;' it’s okay to use that label to further your own successful career capital; and, most offensive, it’s okay to refer to yourself a 'whore' when the artist must compromise to voluntarily buy some crayons and outsourced labor."
The problem with ART WHORE may not be what actually happened during the project but how Ripps has chosen to talk about it. "At the end of the day, I lost $240 through supplies and fees, and they made $160..Whos being exploited? I am, by the ace hotel to advertise their shit for free," he wrote on Facebook. On livejournal Ripps explained, "The title of this piece is ART WHORE, referring to my own involvement." The fact that Ripps is calling himself a whore, aligning himself with people who perform sex for money, is problematic. His use of the words "sex workers" and "hookers" (especially when the woman he hired on Craigslist makes it clear in Ripps' video that she only does massages), has also offended many. It's the discourse surrounding ART WHORE (both from Ripps and other online voices) that's making people so angry.
The Ace Hotel, for their part, gave us this statement: "Founded January 2014, Ace Hotel New York's Artists in Residence program invites guest-curators and artists to temporarily turn our hotel rooms into studio space. From painted oyster shells to gabber mix-CDs, charcoal drawings to dialogs critical of Ace Hotel itself, we've seen it all. We do not require artists to make work that necessarily reflects the views and opinions of our company, and let the artists speak for themselves regarding the intentions of a given project."
While the Ace will let the art stand on its own, Ripps can't resist commenting on his own work. "Good art is like good sex," he wrote on Facebook. If Ripps considers ART WHORE good art, a project where he deemed himself exploited by the Ace, does that mean good sex involves whoring yourself out? This suggestion is even more problematic than Ripps calling the people he hired from Craigslist "sex workers." If he had just let people interpret the project themselves, maybe he could've avoided the controversy.
When this post was published, the discussion about ART WHORE was still continuing on Twitter:
If you're still confused about the whole Ryder Ripps upset, someone has created a chart on Twitter that may be the best thing to come out of ART WHORE: