When Bored Ape Yacht Club launched at the height of last year’s NFT frenzy, Ryder Ripps shrugged off the collection’s off-putting imagery. The series of 10,000 cartoon apes were rife with the meme aesthetics of the internet’s darkest corners, but if you spend enough time online, it’s something you tend to just look past. Then a few months later, a friend showed him the collection’s logo beside the Totenkopf, a skull-and-cross bones insignia widely used in Nazi Germany. It dawned on him: The Apes, now viral and promoted widely by crypto-hawking celebrities, might be an elaborate, malicious troll.
“I realized this shit was intentional,” Ripps, a 36-year-old conceptual artist and creative director who has worked with major artists like Kanye West and Grimes and brands like Nike, Red Bull, and Gucci, told ARTnews. “They’re ruining the internet.”
Since December, Ripps has led a crusade against the irreverent collection, its parent company Yuga Labs — currently valued at a whopping $4 billion — and founders Greg Solano, Wiley Aronow, Kerem Atalay, and Zeshan Ali.
Ripps contends that BAYC, from its logo to the Apes’ accessories — like “sushi chef headbands” inscribed with “kamikaze” in Japanese kanji and spiked Prussian Pickelhaube helmets — is threaded with racist imagery and ties to the online alt-right. Ripps and Yuga Labs are currently embroiled in a legal battle after the company sued the artist for creating copycat NFTs that Ripps says are meant to satirize the collection. (Yuga Labs and BAYC have previously denied the allegations of racism.)
Ripps has cast himself as Laocoon – the priest who begged the Trojans not to let the Greek horse into the city – warning that Yuga’s founders are trying to slip toxic imagery and ideas into the larger culture by packaging it as just another absurd, but ultimately innocuous NFT collection. But is he the best messenger for his warning?
When asked why he’s so sure that Solano, Aronow and their counterparts are trolls, Ripps laughed. “Takes one to know one,” he said.