No matter the season or condition of cryptocurrency, whether it’s the bear market, crypto winter, or the great bull run, the ape remained formidable, unflinching, unfazed, and unapologetically bored.   In conversation with the Co-Founder of Yuga Labs and Bored Ape Yacht Club, Wylie Aronow, better known by his pseudonym Gordon Goner, we took a glimpse behind the curtain of the most exclusive club on the blockchain.  There are 10,000 unique characters in the BAYC, each with a personality accentuated by their particular manner of dress, headwear, lavish accessories, and algorithmically assigned exaggerated facial expressions. 

If you had paid attention before their launch in April 2021, you could have claimed an Ape of your own for about $200.00.  It turns out that being bored in the house during the pandemic had a silver lining.  Unlike any other project in the metaverse, BAYC holders can use the artwork as their avatar on X to reflect their alter ego, but they also have full rights to use their NFT for any use case they could dream up.  At the heart of the Bored Apes is a wildly imaginative, quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and inventive storyline that evolves with the hyper speed of the metaverse.  Driven by a fierce desire to become the greatest short story writer ever, Gordon Goner invented the art of storytelling on the blockchain.  The luminosity of Goner’s spirit, the power of his convictions, and his dedication to the future of art have ensured that Bored Apes will be among the most recognizable icons in art history books for years to come.  

The exclusive interview and cover story with Gordon Goner originally appeared in NFT Magazine, published by NFT expert Mike Hager.  Installation Magazine presents the interview in two parts.  

How did art and collecting influence your upbringing? Were there particular artists who sparked your imagination during your early years?

I grew up in Coconut Grove, Miami, which was an artistic neighborhood back then. The area had been founded by hippies and just had a really eclectic vibe by the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was the kind of neighborhood where there was just a ton of different people from different backgrounds hanging out, getting drunk, being weird. So there was always a bit of an artistic oddity to my hometown and that inspires to me this day, but as far as collecting is concerned, my family collected art. The art that really spoke to me as a kid was, first and foremost, the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. I don’t know if you are familiar with them. They did a piece years before I was born called the “Surrounded Islands” [in 1983], and they went down to Biscayne Bay and wrapped the islands in pink fabric. [The artists decided to surround eleven islands in Biscayne Bay of Miami with six million square feet of pink fabric for two weeks]. By the time I was 6, 7, 8 years old, everywhere I went in Miami, whether it was a doctor’s office or going with my mom to her lawyer or my school even, people had a piece of pink fabric in a frame up on a wall. So it was almost like the vestige of this ephemeral moment in Miami that existed three years before I was born but which enveloped everywhere I went. You would see photos of it and sketches that [Christo] had done, so for a while, I became obsessed with it. I remember asking my mom if we could get one, but they were very expensive. And then it’s interesting because after we launched Bored Apes and got involved in NFTs, I realized there was a commonality in what we were doing. You could think of some of Christo’s work, especially the “Surrounded Islands,” as fractional NFTs.

What an incredible coincidence! Jeanne-Claude and Christo were my first memories of being exposed to and influenced by art. In 1991, “The Umbrellas,” a sprawling site-specific, environmental art installation, came to California. I remember the day my parents loaded up the car with my sister and me to see over a thousand umbrellas lining the mountains of the historic Grapevine. At five years old, I knew those orange umbrellas were important but couldn’t figure out why.

Absolutely. It was so influential… Christo famously didn’t use art dealers. He did it all himself. But he did have a relationship with some art dealers in the ’70s. In fact, one of my best friends growing up, his dad, was one of those people who worked really closely with Christo and was on one of the boats helping him lay out the fabric. My father, who was a very successful powerboat builder and racer in Miami, used to race up and down where Christo had the fabric. So they called him the “King of Thunderboat Row,” it wasn’t too far from there. And so I felt like a lot of just history to that place. It also felt so uniquely Miami, and that played a role in the kind of art I was interested in, anything that was experiential. … I just loved how punk rock and the early art scene in Miami felt. It felt like everywhere I went, people were doing the most experimental, weird things, and I like being a part of that. I like being a part of that world. 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude always maintained a degree of creative autonomy because they didn’t rely on the traditional gallery infrastructure to bring their projects to life. Instead, they sold sketches and photographic documentation to collectors to fund their projects. The artifacts of documentation were as important as the completed work.

Very similar to NFTs once again. Christo and Jean-Claude have always been my heroes artistically. Since I was very young, probably starting around eight, they became even more my heroes as I’ve gotten older, especially as I’ve gotten involved in NFTs. Their journey is incredibly inspiring.

When the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) exploded on the Ethereum blockchain in April 2021, there was an undeniable and distinctive commonality shared among all 10,000 Apes—the narrative that connects their inhabitance in a Sci-Fi-esque universe. Their facial expressions relay a sense of perpetual ennui paired with captain’s hats, 3D glasses, or flashing a set of gold Grillz. The realization of the Bored Ape personality begins with the story. How did your background as a writer influence the creation and development of the project?

I usually don’t talk about this stuff because it can seem a little pretentious, but there isn’t a thing I do that isn’t informed by my writing background. The thing I wanted to be, since I was a kid, was to be a writer. So first, I studied design, almost like to get that out of the way. My first degree was in design. My second degree was in creative writing. And I took creative writing extremely, extremely seriously. And so, for years, that’s all I did. All I did was read as much as I possibly could—hundreds and hundreds of books—and write as much as I could. I pretty much eschewed every other aspect of my life. How this all relates to NFTs is it taught me how to keep the reader’s attention. I stole this analogy from George Saunders, but narratives are like little Hot Wheels tracks, you need enough gas stations placed in just the right spots along the track to keep the reader’s going. Those gas stations are essentially expectation and delight. Put another way: Something always needs to be coming around the next corner, and the delivery of that thing should be more than the audience was expecting.

In this rigorous period of immersing yourself in books and writing short stories, what did you discover?

The key to good writing is to keep the reader’s attention. If your reader stops reading on page 10, it doesn’t matter how great your writing is on page 11. The first objective of a writer is to keep people reading. You do that with expectation and delight. “Expectation” is basically something that is always coming around the corner. So it’s like, “I have this expectation that something bigger, something exciting is going to happen.” Then, the “delight” is when you fulfill that desire. In my opinion, the way to become a good writer is to essentially hit those two points over and over and over again and hit those two points as fast as possible. That was the approach that I took to Bored Ape Yacht Club from the very beginning. Create expectation and delight, and then delight can happen in a lot of ways. There was a wonderful writer, probably one of my favorite writers, named George Saunders.  And he writes a lot about this, [how readers experience fiction in his book, “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.”] And the metaphor he uses is a Hot Wheels track. Do you remember those when we were kids?

Absolutely, I do. I had plenty.

Me too. The idea was that your reader or the story is the car going around the track. And those gas stations that power the car to keep going around the track, those are the moments of delight. And that’s the fulfillment that you want to be giving. The goal is to keep the car going around the track. I never really thought of an ending. To poorly paraphrase the ancient Greeks here, “The goal is to be surprising and inevitable.” And that’s always the end result. 

The symbiotic relationship between expectation and delight manifests in the utilities unique to the BAYC, which include access to the Club itself, exclusive invitations to IRL events, and, above all, the intellectual property rights of the image. BAYC takes ownership to a whole new level: Collectors don’t just hold their Ape, but they become their Ape. To create this Club, what elements of community were essential to you?

I guess my perspective on this was that the whole scope of everything I was building was what mattered. It wasn’t just the visual component of the Bored Ape art. My perspective was that what mattered was the whole orchestration of empowering a community, fostering that community, working on some kind of narrative for why someone should want to join that community, and delivering in surprising, yet inevitable ways. Community forms around narrative, in my opinion. That was the approach I took to everything we did with Bored Ape Yacht Club. That was the approach that I did with everything at Yuga Labs, at least during that first year when I was at the creative helm.

Did you feel your Hot Wheels car begin running out of momentum at any point? Eventually, creating a constant loop of expectation and delight might hit a dead end?

For better or worse, that first year was the only year that I had full creative control. After that, there was a lot of outside creative influence that came in. (Each more brilliant and competent than I could ever be.) We desperately needed help. It’s just that I kind of started to burn out. And so did Greg [Solano, aka “Gargamel,”] Kerem [Atalay aka “Emperor Tomato Ketchup,”] and Zeshan [Aka “No Sass.”] We just started to lose steam. You can only keep up that level of speed of execution for so long, and the trolls, which I’m sure most are familiar with at this point, took a huge toll on our psyche. I don’t think the narrative loops ended, but I think they did slow down, though I think that’s changing, it’s picking up speed again. The right people are in the right place.

Have you ever considered the synergy between creative writing and an NFT project?

One of my biggest inspirations was [Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance.” He opens it up by talking about the nature of art; he says, “I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may.” And I’ve always loved this line more than anything because it shows me when you’re speaking, when you’re doing something passionately, holistically, like when every part of you mentally, physically, spiritual, is in alignment with what you’re creating, it really doesn’t matter what it is. We’re talking about this from the perspective of good writing in today’s era-it doesn’t matter if it’s good writing in a TikTok video or if it’s good writing in a New York Times piece; it doesn’t matter. If it’s compelling and follows the rules of narrative laid out by Aristotle thousands of years ago, it’s all good. It’s all gravy.

A significant portion of the creative process, including writing, involves unseen work. What was it like to craft a world for collectors to engage with and for the Apes to inhabit?

Usually, people only saw a very small presentation of something which had been worked on to an insane degree, by a lot of brilliant people. It was just a paragraph here, a few lines there, some teaser art, there wasn’t some grand story you could go read, you just got pieces of it. Bored Apes were more like a tone than a story. The art style had a tone, the language we used had a tone. When I talk about “narrative” I don’t mean fiction. The whole story about Bored Apes was a single paragraph on the website. Clearly, that wasn’t what mattered most. Even the infamous tweet of “Fuck it. Mutants Saturday” when we launched the Mutant Ape Yacht Club: That might have felt like an impulsive move, but it was actually carefully thought through. That’s a very small thing, right? It’s almost like the smallest degen poem ever. But underneath that, was a lot of work. That was the real narrative, all this serious work that was going on behind the scenes but with an outward facing sense of irreverence about it all. 




Portraits of Gordon Goner by Rainer Hosch © 2024