Nepo Baby of the Week: Rocco Ritchie Is Ready for Art Basel

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty

Madonna’s not the only member of her famous family making headlines in Miami this week. While Madge staged a series of sold-out concerts, her 23-year-old son, Rocco Ritchie (whose father is director Guy Ritchie), put on a two-day pop-up art show called “Pack a Punch.” But did it, actually?

According to Artnet, which dutifully covered Ritchie’s show, his paintings are “figurative, bold, and almost expressionist, with an intriguing palette.” If asked to describe the charcoal drawings from this show in layman’s terms, this amateur art critic would say they’re “geometric black-and-white figures seemingly inspired by Picasso (?) with questionable execution.” The Miami Herald perhaps put it best in saying, “a viewer may wonder if the slightly-off body proportions in some of the drawings (like a too-small foot or too-short arms) are stylistic choices or not.”

Ever the diva, Madonna reportedly showed up to her son’s art show 30 minutes after it was supposed to end on Wednesday night. Of course, you wouldn’t know it from the Instagram post, which she captioned, “So happy to have the night off to enjoy my son Rocco’s’s [sic] latest collection of paintings called ‘Pack A Punch’ inspired by Muay Thai fighters. So Proud !”

“Pack a Punch” is Ritchie’s first stateside art show. Last fall, he put on a London-based exhibition called “Lovers and Enemies,” which, according to its description, reflected “time spent with friends, looking at friends, at family, at lovers, at heroes, remembering faces that you think you know so well but finding something new that excites you and pushes you forward to find out more. That which gives more depth, an insight into that person.” I mean, sure!

By the time Ritchie put on “Lovers and Enemies,” he’d also mounted multiple solo exhibitions at the Tanya Baxter Contemporary in Chelsea, west London. At first, those Chelsea shows seemed quite impressive; how had an anonymous artist fresh out of school pulled off such a feat? But then, people figured out who he was—and, more importantly, who his parents are. Suddenly, the five-figure sales and A-list art show attendees started to make more sense. By the time he staged “Lovers to Enemies,” Ritchie was using his own name, alongside his own pseudonym.

Obviously, Ritchie concocted his old pseudonym, “Rhed,” to fly under the radar while establishing himself in the art world. As the young artist put it to Artnet this week, “I’m proud of who I am and where I’ve come from, but I know people would have judged me aggressively in my early stages if I came out with my name. I wanted to develop technically before showing under my name.”

Based on some of the critical responses Ritchie’s work received after his public unmasking in late 2021, that was a prescient instinct. In 2022, The Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones called Ritchie’s paintings “clumsy adolescent efforts with no sign of originality or vigour.” Ouch!

While Jones granted that Ritchie could get better with time, he maintained that it was “a shame” that “Rhed” had “cynically” been foisted on the public before he was ready. “These daubs are amateur stuff,” Jones sneered, “vaguely imitating Picasso or Modigliani, that could have been done by a million young people.”

As if that weren’t harsh enough, the arts writers Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad—collectively known as “The White Pube”—gave The Guardian an even more colorful statement.

“These paintings look like AI has scraped Modigliani, fauvism, b-side Picassos, and a more conspicuous [Francis] Bacon style to create new works that feel old and flat and done,” the artists said. “And the dramatic reveal: ‘suspiciously successful kid in art world secretly has incredibly rich famous parents’ isn’t surprising or new, but it is shit.”

The artist-led art magazine Elephant was similarly unimpressed. In a piece published in 2022, soon after Ritchie’s identity reveal, deputy editor Louise Benson wrote that the young artist’s unimaginable privilege and opportunities, “which most couldn’t even begin to imagine, are integral to his success. To not only negate but to set out to conceal this in his biography does a disservice to artists everywhere.”

As so often happens, however, it seems the nepo baby has the last laugh. As the Herald notes, Ritchie’s “Pack a Punch” paintings are all on sale for $25,000 a pop—and as of that article, published Thursday, he’d already sold five. In other words, this week, he earned more than most of us can hope to make in a year. Something tells me that with that kind of money, even the sharpest criticism only cuts so deep.

Check out our past Nepo Babies of the Week.

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