YER ART SUX: ‘ART WHORE’ by Ryder Ripps

by suzyhooker on November 17, 2014 · 2 comments

in Prostitution, Silly Media Coverage, YER ART SUX

Ryder Ripps (photo via his Facebook page) Can we use this? Is it considered a part of the public domain?

Behold, the prototypical art bro: Ryder Ripps. (photo via Ripps’ Facebook)

Juniper Fleming co-wrote this with Tits and Sass co-editors Caty Simon and Josephine. Josephine and Caty discuss the project and media reaction and Juniper analyzes the project video.

Juniper is an artist and writer living in New York. Attaining her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2014, she was the recipient of a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) Fellowship in 2013. She has shown her work internationally, and has been published in such places as Dear Dave and Make/Shift Magazine.

JOSEPHINE: It was Salvador Dali who famously said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” Perhaps New York-based artist Ryder Ripps was considering those words when the Ace Hotel in Manhattan brought him in as a one night artist-in-residence and provided him with a free night’s stay and $50 for supplies. Ripps decided to outsource his work to a couple of sensual massage workers from Craigslist and dubbed the results ART WHORE.

An internet controversy ensued; bloggers and critics accused Ripps of exploitation and ignorance. Ripps posits that he was actually making a point about exploitation. See, he did not feel fairly compensated for his work so, obviously, the “creative” thing would be to make someone else do it! Ripps was paid nothing for his work, in fact, at the end of it, he said he’d actually lost money after paying the workers for their labor. In essence: Ripps felt exploited by Ace Hotel, so he exploited someone else in an effort to emphasize his own exploitation. I think? Whoa. That’s deep. Mind blown.

His narcissism is so meta.

It gets better with Ripps’ oh-so-eloquent defense of the labor provided by the massage workers for ART WHORE: “Because good art is like good sex.” Got it. Sex workers making good art is very similar to sex workers making good sex, and good art is like good sex so, see, this whole project makes perfect sense. You just don’t understand.

Longtime sex worker ally academic Theresa Senft examines the assumptions behind 'Art Whore' in "Digital Labot & Sex Work: Let's Set Some Research Agendas." (Screenshot of Senft's project via academia.edu, courtesy of Theresa Senft)

Longtime sex worker ally academic Theresa Senft examines the assumptions behind ART WHORE in “Digital Labot & Sex Work: Let’s Set Some Research Agendas.” (Screenshot of Senft’s project via academia.edu, courtesy of Theresa Senft)

The controversy revolving around ART WHORE contained a lot of supposed art critics that know nothing about sex work speculating about sex work. Well, I’m here to bridge the gap. I’m a sex worker who knows nothing about art theory. Here’s my critique.

(Just a second, putting on my Warby Parkers. Looking for a beret. Ah! Here’s one.)

I’ll give Ripps some credit; I’ll bet he sneakily intended to manufacture the controversy surrounding ART WHORE and critics fell for it, hook, line and sinker. After all, sex work equals instant street cred in the counterculture, right? Ignoring that it is derivative, boring and predictable, ART WHORE fails for bigger reasons. While Ripps was bellyaching about how he was exploited so much more than the sensual massage workers responsible for his work, he failed to acknowledge the inherent risk those workers took to even participate. Mr. Ripps can make art all night long in a hotel room and he won’t ever get arrested for it. Mr. Ripps can put his name on the work he produces—there’s no stigma attached to his occupation.

Lastly, since Ripps was so indignant about how poorly Ace Hotel compensated him, he should have taken a cue from the workers he employed that night and learned to negotiate a better rate.

Awww, Ripps, you're such a prince. (Screenshot of Ryder Ripps' comment in response to the Art F City's review of 'Art Whore')

Awww, Ripps, you’re such a prince. (Screenshot of Ryder Ripps’ comment in response to the Art F City’s review of ‘Art Whore’)

CATY: He paid them each $80 for 45 minutes? That’s laughable compared to the typical New York city escort/erotic masseuse’s hourly rate. I’m so sick of people who think they can bargain us down because “nothing sexual will happen, I just wanna do ___ [leverage your sexy transgressive status for my art project, in this case.]” When clients want to have sex, that’s SOP. It’s usually no chore for me to do my job as it’s traditionally defined, and yet, all these dicks like Ryder Ripps think they’re doing us such a favor when they hire us to perform some elaborate, high-maintenance task that’s “not sexual.” My clients only benefit from my work by having a nice orgasm, whereas workers Brooke and Jay were paid pennies on the dollar for Ripps’ use of them to create controversy and raise his profile in the art scene. Their criminalization keeps their participation in the work conveniently pseudonymous, so it’s not like anyone can track them down and ask them if they actually “enjoyed” doing this work for Ripps, as he claims.

And yet, Ripps had the chutzpah to ask on Facebook, as part of a long defensive ramble: “How is it exploitative? I paid her to draw stuff…Ace Hotel not paying me to make shit is more of an exploitation.” Has there ever been a sloppier economic analysis in a piece of art? “Uh, yeah, we’re like, all whores to the Man because this cushy hotel doesn’t pay me enough to draw shit!”

The outrage over ART WHORE is more offensive than the piece itself. The blog Art F City reports that responses to Ripps’ work in private women-only Facebook groups like Starwave were “quick and negative” and calls ART WHORE “misogynistic” in their thumbs down review of the piece. As usual, women as an oppressed group are the injured parties when sex work is referenced, because the existence of sex work somehow equates to misogyny. Uh, that’s not misogyny, dudes, that’s whorephobia, and it’s sex workers who should be pissed about this artist’s false equivalence of himself and his artist in residence status with being a “whore,” not some random closed feminist FB group.

Gawker’s Andy Cush even has the balls to complain about Ripps “speaking for” sex workers while neglecting to even mention any sex worker artists in his post on the fiasco, littered with art theorists pontificating on sex work. “Jay and Brooke’s consent is at the heart of what ART WHORE is really about,” asserts Vice Magazine’s Michelle Lhooq, in her defense of the piece, basing that statement on the video Ripps made of his interactions with the workers, a video which he did not even tell them he’d be making until they’d arrived at his door, at which point they must have felt pressured to see the call through.

As usual, sex workers are being utilized as a convenient metaphor without being allowed to be people with voices instead of symbols. Not to be too pretentious here—but hey, sex workers can quote theory too, elitist artist/journalist asshats!—but I’m reminded of art historian Julia Bryan Wilson ‘s essay “Dirty Commerce: Art Work and Sex Work since the 1970s”:

“’The prostitute’ is stretched thin across the threshold of the literal and the metaphoric, put to work as almost no other figure is.”

More from Theresa Senft on the assumptions behind 'Art Whore,' from "Digital Labor & Sex Work: Let's Set Some Research Agendas." (Screenshot of Senft's project via academia.edu, courtesy of Theresa Senft)

More from Theresa Senft on the assumptions behind ART WHORE, from “Digital Labor & Sex Work: Let’s Set Some Research Agendas.” (Screenshot of Senft’s project via academia.edu, courtesy of Theresa Senft)

JUNIPER: I could talk about the history of artists and journalists exploiting images of sex workers, without any critical insight or community feedback. However, I honestly do not think there is enough intention behind Ripps’ actions to warrant placing them in the same context. More than his project, it’s his stupidity that irritates me. How dare he use my rich, complex, fabulous, and inspiring community to make such dull, boring work?

Did you watch the two hour video at the end of his Livejournal post documenting ART WHORE? I did:

  • In the first ten seconds he calls the people he’s inviting over “hookers,” and says he turned one person down when they wanted to come over with some friends who were also interested in painting, because he was worried that he might be robbed. This is extremely offensive, and why was he trying to connect with a group of people he thinks so poorly of?
  • When he brings the first person to his room he tells her in the doorway, with the video camera already rolling, that he is recording the entire session, and hopes this is ok. He tells her it’s no big deal, and seems to need to convince her to step into the room. To be “transparent” in his documentation, he later included e-mails between him and the two people who ended up coming over on his Livejounal post. Nowhere in the job description he posted did it say that their evening would be video recorded. Did Ripps not think this would be an important factor for the workers in deciding whether or not to come over and draw for him? I do not want to assume how the woman felt in this situation. But when traveling all the way to someone’s hotel room, you are devoting part, or all, of your evening in lieu of other potential clients. With that in mind, if you get to the door, and the client then nonchalantly informs you that he will be recording your time together, you might feel immense pressure to stay and see the session through, even if you’re uncomfortable. This is not a trifling matter; this is coercion.
  • The erotic masseuse requests payment up front, a usual practice. Ripps refuses her request, insisting that he will pay half before the drawing, and then half after:
    Him: “Yeah I’ll pay you.”
    Her: “Well you need to pay me before I start drawing and stuff.”
    Him: ”Ok, how about I pay you half before.”
    Her: “NOOOOOOOOOOOO, I’m not going anywhere.”
    Him: “I mean I am not going to not pay you, I just give you the rest when your done.” (pause) “If that’s ok.” I cannot say if she felt coerced or violated, as I would have, but she was obviously uncomfortable with this.
  • He, too, is obviously uncomfortable with being around her, or rather, his idea of her. After initially failing in his attempts to small talk, he turns up the music and drinks nervously. Then, after a long awkward silence, he gives it one more shot, perhaps realizing they are on camera, and hoping to get some juicy details from her: “Do people have a lot of weird requests when e-mailing you?”
    She says, sometimes, but wants to make clear that she does massage/bodywork, not anything illegal.
    Ripps, now needing to invalidate this counter self-identification that she offers on camera to his deeming her a “hooker,” states, “Well, posting on Casual Encounters I imagine people are looking for sex, right?” When she answers, affirming her original statement, there is a long silence, most likely stemming from Ripps’ realization that he’s found someone who doesn’t identify the way he was hoping he could label her. [Editor’s note: In a Skype chat with Vice Magazine’s Michelle Lhooq, Ripps admitted, “I regret referring to them as sex workers now. I feel this was an overstep on my part.”]
  • In both of Ripps’ encounters he tells them to draw whatever and however they would like. Sounds nice enough, except he repeatedly interrupts with uninvited, heavy-handed comments such as, “Oh, I think that’s done! Wow, that looks great, I would leave that. I mean, do whatever you want, but it’s done.” In both sessions Ripps uses the same stupid analogy about how even good cooks can ruin food when they put in too many ingredients, thereby communicating to the workers what I’m sure they already knew, that no matter what he said, he has a specific fantasy that he wants them to play out.
  • Before the second person came over to draw, Ripps states to the camera that he is only involving a male worker in order to counter the accusations he assumes he will receive that he’s being sexist. When the man arrives they have a much more comfortable rapport than Ripps had with the masseuse, because this worker is obviously skilled in getting clients to talk about themselves. Ripps opens up to the guy, but when the man asks him what turns him on, looking for inspiration for a drawing, Ripps gets uncomfortable, feeling the need to state that he is straight, but that he isn’t homophobic, and that he even has “gay friends. Ummm, what?
  • Ripps then goes on to say he likes “hot girls” and “choking” and is “very open about that”… Well, I would hope so, Ryder! Please do yourself a favor and read up on consent.
  • Towards the end of the second session, Ripps tells the worker that he is very different than he thought he would be. The reason he was expecting something different is that the worker had advertised on Craigslist with a penis pic, that Ripps later shared (potentially without consent) in his Livejournal documentation.

Ripps didn’t expect for the workers to be human, but instead caricatures. This project is about nothing more than the assumptions that Ripps has about “hookers.” He thought that he could make a commentary on how he felt exploited by Ace Hotel, by being asked to make “free artwork” for them. But unlike Ripps, Ace Hotel said he could be, do, and make whatever he wanted, and they seem to have stuck by that. Ripps told the workers who and what they were, and what their work should look like. And yet, like our community always has, they flourished, creating provocative and conscious drawings. They made the best of their interaction with Ripps, seemingly finding some enjoyment in the task. Yet, Ripps clearly learned nothing from interacting with them, later stating on Facebook, “I am trying to empower people who otherwise would not be in the art world.”

Quick tip from a sex worker artist: Ripps, you empowered no one. They empowered themselves.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

W M November 19, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Just watched some of the video. If I didn’t already know he was real, I would honestly think he’s satire of “artsy douche” cause he’s just too pretentious and delusional to be real.

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puff daddy's daddy December 9, 2014 at 2:34 am

Wow this piece is a joke.

In 2 hours he could hardly hold a conversation with the people he invited over and comes across as a rather dull and boring individual. it rather makes me doubt the sincerity of the piece itself being anything beyond simply “hey this sounds like it could be a clever idea, its so meta” and not really a work of art with any actual thought put into its intended meaning whatsoever.

We’re treated to 2 hours of top40 radio songs and insipid childish questions about clients with the first person and sudden “whoah dude i aint gay but im totally ok with dudes” type attitude in the second.

you’d think an actual artist attempting to create an actual work of art that could exist outside of their own childish narcissism would engage the two people he’s invited over, considering he’s filming it (obviously ignoring the consent part of that for a moment), in a conversation about their feelings – dialogue with them about his supposes “thesis”, maybe even begin to understand the question he may have momentaarily asked himself that was the inception of the piece but oh so quickly forgot to even come back to through its creation.

You’d think someone who actually makes art is expressing something, or saying something, not simply coming up w/ the clever copywrite and hoping everyone just buys it based upon the title because its rather devoid of anything. Or do we not get something like that because the artist wasnt being paid enough for their art? I thought it was the sort of thing artists just did, as if it were an unavoidable destination of fate?

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