First things first, despite his claims to the contrary, rapscallion artist Ryder Ripps is not responsible for the Central Intelligence Agency’s much-discussed digital rebranding that was unveiled Monday. A spokesman for the organization told GQ in clear, bureaucratic prose: “As the CIA’s new website says, we are looking for people from different backgrounds and walks of life to work for the CIA, but that person had absolutely nothing to do with our website do redesign. “
Even so, in these crazy, jumbled times, it can be difficult to tell bottom-down, top-up, old to right, old to wrong, joke from hard-working genius.
When Ripps added the new CIA logo to his Instagram portfolio in a post he deleted but re-added the next day, the idea seemed to somehow add up. After all, Ripps is the controversial post-internet artist who designed (legitimate) websites for Ryan Trecartin and Soylent. Who has a special taste for cyberpranks; and whose slide and occasional graphic design rival Virgil Abloh has a uniquely magnanimous take on corporate branding.
After the secret wing of the government unveiled its new website on Monday, the internet got caught in a spiral of graphic design, which is my passion, via its nifty branding and pseudo-hipster employee photos. AdAge wrote that it was compared to “a millennial pop-up store”. Many people were quick to believe Ripps’ claim of responsibility, and he was severely criticized for being part of the organization. He defended himself on Twitter in a handful of now-deleted tweets.
Assuming Ripps was on the rise, GQ reached out to him via direct message on Twitter to discuss the work, but it quickly became apparent that Ripps was up to his usual tricks. “The concept was to model the site outside of the section, make it super clean, mkultra vibes,” he wrote, referring to the CIA’s infamous mind control program. He added that he found a point of contact for the organization on LinkedIn, but since the CIA is “secret or whatever you know” it would be “probably stupid not to talk about it”. When asked if he had signed an NDA, he said that he never worked directly with the CIA, but delivered his work through robots and carrier pigeons. (GQ reproduces the direct message text exactly as the artist wrote it.)
It all sounded like a pretty unlikely story. When asked for evidence that he was involved in the work and why he deleted his Instagram, he wrote that there are “a lot of CIA haters out there” and admitted, “I mean, I don’t think of all of them what they think is done well ”and offered the critics in defense,“ but like a job is a job and I’m American, even though I’ve been to Europe a few times. “He also claimed he was paid in Mexican pesos for the job.
At this point, we reached out to the CIA to verify Ryder’s account, and the CIA promptly shot it down with the comment above.
Why does Ripps insist on recognizing a project he had nothing to do with and just deserving the ridicule of both the internet and the art world? I hesitated to dip back into the not-quite-honeydew that is Ripps’s DMs, but held out my hand in search of the truth. “Shit,” he wrote, “then who sent these robots and carrier pigeons?”
Maybe he just saw a meme and ran with it. Or maybe he was making a joke about the impossibility of finding the truth under the dumpster pile of Internet misinformation. Writer Malcolm Harris tweeted, “Some people will forever believe Ryder Ripps designed the CIA logo.”