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James Franco's Art: A Layperson's Guide

Brooding Artiste James Franco
Brooding Artiste James Franco
Screenshot of Harmony Korine's "Rebel"

See also:

*James Franco's MOCA Show Opening: 'There's Just a Lot of Dicks in There'

*James Franco & Alex Israel: Why Their Obsession With Celebrity Doesn't Pay Off

Who are we to argue celebrity artistic merit -- or any artistic merit anywhere? It is 2012, after all, and it has kinda all been done. We've seen art that maims, art that aborts babies, art that just bores. In this sea of whatevers and what-have-you's, there's that one celebrity who is unaware of the need for an artistic filter -- thus pushing artistic boundaries by not recognizing them. He is, of course, former McDonald's cashier and General Hospital star James Franco.

Wrapping your brain around the walking-talking graduate-thesis-come-to-life James Franco's artistic output may prove too daunting for all but the most itinerant of trustafarians. As a companion to his latest, the MOCA show "Rebel," which closes Saturday, we've put together a short primer on all you need to know about Mr. Franco's art projects. Oh, and lest you get caught having to pretend you know what the word "meta" means -- here's Webster (just to be on the safe side, we also looked up vainglorious and self-absorbed just in case we needed to use them).

So here goes:

Woah...just...woah...
Woah...just...woah...
James Franco's The Dangerous Book Four Boys

Drawings / Mixed Media:

As part of a larger exhibition titled "The Dangerous Book Four Boys," Franco vandalized a copy of Hal Iggulden's 2006 rapscallion handbook The Dangerous Book for Boys with scribblings, his own photos and other such mixed-media artistic dalliances.

He's all: "After school, I would go from about 4 to 10 every day at a local art league and take classes on drawing and landscaping."

Everyone else is all: "As Franco's voice as an artist strengthens, he questions notions of identity, masculinity and sexuality, rejecting a kind of normal childhood and way of parenting. Openly influenced by Kenneth Anger and the artist Paul McCarthy, he explores the cult of celebrity, referencing both real and manufactured public figures, including himself, to illustrate how celebrity can be meaningful." --Art critic Michael Kowalinski in 2011.

We're all: "Didn't the online animated character Strongbad do this in Homestar Runner like six years ago?" Yeah. He did. It was funnier.

Franco's wooden rocket ship...about to explode.
Franco's wooden rocket ship...about to explode.
Courtesy of Peres Projects, photo by Marianne Spurr

Sculpture:

Also as part of "The Dangerous Book Four Boys" exhibition, Franco built a giant wooden rocket ship playset thing and some huts. Projectors inside of wooden structures played films of the same building on fire or exploding -- reflexively reflecting themselves and all that good stuff.

He's all: "I sleep, like, three hours a night."

Everyone else is all: "...[T]he show is a confusing mix of the clueless and the halfway promising." --Art critic Roberta Smith

We're all: Did your dad not hire someone to build you one of these when you were a kid?

Paintings:

Los Angeles' now-defunct Glu Gallery displayed a variety of Franco's canvasses in 2006. They are a somewhat schizophrenic collection of messy collages and puerile images.

He's all: "I just had a show in L.A. at a place called the Glu Gallery. It's just something I do on my own."

Everyone else is all: "I think he's going to be a visionary artist for his generation." Curator Alanna Heiss

We're all: These aren't exactly the dark, wispy surrealist brushstrokes of an Odd Nerdrum, or even the in-yo'-face realism of a Jenny Saville. It's more the meta-masturbatory scribblings of a self-absorbed high schooler. There's even a painting of a giant pile of shit, branded "Ape Shit." Funny.

Screenshot of "Dicknose in Paris"
Screenshot of "Dicknose in Paris"

Video art:

One of Franco's video art projects is called Dicknose in Paris. It involves Franco running around Paris with a penis and testicles glued to his face.

He's all: "It's a fairly confrontational piece..."

Everyone else is all: "What an asshole...what an asshole..." One of Franco's NYU professors upon seeing the film.

We're all: Ditto.

One of the photos in "Rebel"
One of the photos in "Rebel"
Terry Richardson's "James Franco in Drag," courtesy of the artist and OHWOW Gallery

Installation:

For MOCA's "Rebel" show at JF Chen, Franco brought together a number of collaborators, including Ed Ruscha and Paul McCarthy, to examine the legacy of James Dean and the movie Rebel Without a Cause. The lush, indoor environment is made to look like the landscaping of the Chateau Marmont, with the "bungalows" serving as places to show violent and sexually explicit video art.

He's all: "We are no longer dealing with the facts that happened. We are now dealing with the myth, the legend and all the implications, all the symbolism, everything that the icons, James Dean and everyone else came and stood for." --Interview in Juxtapoz magazine

Everyone else is all: "Time spent in the blowzy exhibition...would be more profitably spent watching the terrific movie." --Christopher Knight, L.A. Times

We're all: "The result is just a loud, immature assault on the senses that is off-putting in its many shameless excesses." --Carol Cheh, in L.A. Weekly

James Franco's Art: A Layperson's Guide
Wikimedia Commons

Self:

Franco now pretty much lives his life as if everything he does is a form of artistic expression (here we'll lump in his appearance on General Hospital as the artist/serial killer known as "Franco" -- an episode was taped at MOCA)

He's all: ""That's the thing. I'm kind of stuck as myself."

Everyone else is all: "It's one of the most significant things going on right now -- not just in art but also in progressive culture -- this convergence, the dissolving of boundaries between what is art, what's music, what is performance... and it's also the convergence between a more elevated fine art culture and popular culture. Franco is one of these people who is leading this convergence." MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch, L.A. Times, 2012.

We're all: Pardon us for being philistines, but, would it be impolite to ask you all to get over yourselves? What about the cross-pollination of art and real life? We're sure there's a guy living in Silver Lake under the 101 wearing a tinfoil hat, screaming about the cavities the government is giving him via NSA satellites -- where's his MOCA show? Sorry for being mean, we're laughing right there with you, James...just not on our way to the bank.

Follow @PaulTBradley and @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.


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