BERLIN: The art of James Franco

Posted by · 11:10 am · February 17th, 2011

James Franco obviously had to sleep for a couple of hours between rehearsing for the Oscars, campaigning for the Oscars, filming one of his four films set for release this year, preparing to direct two prestige literary adaptations, planning his Broadway revival of “Sweet Bird of Youth” opposite Nicole Kidman, writing the Great American Novel and solving world hunger — since amid those distractions, he didn’t have a film to premiere at this year’s Berlinale. The man’s slacking.

Still, he isn’t entirely absent from the city over the festival period: his first solo European art exhibition, “The Dangerous Book Four Boys” opened last week in a private gallery in Berlin’s hipster-saturated Oranienburger Strasse district. As a welcome distraction from a second consecutive day of mostly unfulfilling filmgoing (the festival schedule is very much in the winding-down stages, though I still have some crackers to review), I went along to check it out — and as much as I like Franco, I must admit that if, amid his legion of other activities, “visual artist” got dropped from his résumé, it wouldn’t be the most crushing of losses.

(Note: depending on your sensitivities, pictures after the cut may not be suitable for the office.)

Though inevitably something of a vanity project, the show is by no means an embarrassment — no better or worse than the majority of quirky independent exhibitions peppering New York’s meatpacking district or London’s Vyner Street. A haphazard collection of photographs, doodles, short films (including his gay teenage study “Feast of Stephen,” which won him a Teddy Award at last year’s Berlinale) and other bits and bobs displayed without title cards, the only hint of artist’s motivation comes from the helpful flyer I was handed at the entrance:

[W]e see Franco draw upon childhood experiences including notions of identity, maculinity, sexuality and other essential life experiences and culminates in presenting a rejection of normative parenthood and suggesting alternative paradigms for parental relations.

That’s an ambitious statement for a scrappy collection of pieces that seem, for the most part, to have tongue formly held in cheek: at the entrance, one is greeted by a glass display case featuring, amongst other things, a latex model of a penis (Franco’s own? we may never know) and a series of framed pages torn from a copy of the bestselling male-nostalgia opus “The Dangerous Book for Boys” (hence the exhibition title) defaced with scribbles rather like those you might have made in your math textbook in the fourth grade. The crudeness, I presume, is intentional — a statement on stunted male maturity, at a push — but the promised alternative paradigms remained, for me, elusive.

Predictably, given his day job, the video installations are slightly more substantial, including a longish, sporadically piece where Franco interviews himself and others on adolescent experiences and other, murkier flights of fancy. One of his subjects offers a statement that I rather liked: “Fuck you for calling me different, but thanks for noticing.” It’s perhaps a fitting description of Franco’s own slightly mannered, dude-ish eccentricity. I may not be sold on James Franco, Fine Artist — but as we keep saying, who else in Hollywood is trying on this many hats?

Three photos from the exhibition to give you an idea below. More at the Peres Projects Gallery website.

[Photos: Peres Projects]

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15 responses so far

  • 1 2-17-2011 at 11:35 am

    Casey Fiore said...

    Does anyone else think James Franco the Renaissance Man is kind of a fake and he’s really not that good at any of these things he does. His short stories were not good and I find his acting to be horrible as often as I find it pretty good.

    He kind of reminds me of Max Fischer. He can do it all, just none of it very well. Of course he gets a lot more recognition than Max.

  • 2 2-17-2011 at 11:44 am

    James Stewart said...

    Casey Fiore: Indeed. Amen.

  • 3 2-17-2011 at 12:14 pm

    Jim T said...

    I think he’s a fine actor and I’m glad he’s interested in so many things.
    When you try so many things is almost inevitable that you’re not going to succeed in all of them. But when it comes to areas outside of acting, he is much less experienced so he might improve with time.
    I just hope he doesn’t need the experience in directing because I want his two films (the ones Guy mentioned) to be good and not just something to excercise with.

    Renaissance Man? Please.. the new Madonna! :p

  • 4 2-17-2011 at 12:39 pm

    Jesse Crall said...

    I third what Casey is saying. Also, as a UCLA student, I know that his workload while a student there is literally impossible to maintain under any circumstance, let alone someone with a professional career.

  • 5 2-17-2011 at 1:45 pm

    Marv said...

    Well! One thing I will say: at least the man has the balls to try these things. Along with having very little ego to worry about if he succeds. Most of us in life are not willing to go out on a limb: we want to play it safe. Or our egos are to big and we worry about failing

    The man obviously has many different intrest. I don’t buy the “fake” part. You’re telling me he wants to run his self into the ground with these vaied intrest? To impress who? He seems like his own person to me.

    To echo what Jim T said it is pretty hard to be good at everything.

  • 6 2-17-2011 at 1:46 pm

    Marv said...

    Varied intrest I meant.

  • 7 2-17-2011 at 2:49 pm

    Mike_M said...

    @Jesse Crall I agree about the school workload, isnt he also in school at Yale now too, getting a phd? I know when I was working full time at my job and was completing my master’s degree at NYU after work I had little time for anything else. Now my major was Comp Sci, which obviously means I needed to solve problems as my “homework” and I either got the problem solved or not (right or wrong). Maybe since he is doing more English/literary studies, the assignments/work is way more open-ended and he can just crank out writtings since his juices are always flowing… good for him if he can do it all though.

  • 8 2-17-2011 at 2:58 pm

    Maxim said...

    Not sure who it’s on, but what a joke.

  • 9 2-17-2011 at 3:14 pm

    Afrika said...

    Well put.

  • 10 2-17-2011 at 3:17 pm

    Afrika said...

    I know right? and there was some news article going around about how Franco made three movies in one year, published a book and was still able to have a 3.6 GPA. Seriously ridiculous.

  • 11 2-17-2011 at 6:56 pm

    red_wine said...

    He’s an over-achiever or atleast trying very hard to be one. His aspirations surpass his skill.

  • 12 2-17-2011 at 8:26 pm

    Speaking English said...

    This is rather like Thierry Guetta’s work in “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” And much of what is called ‘modern art’ but is really pretentious mishmashes of unsuccessful abstract ideas.

    Sorry James, stick to what you know.

  • 13 2-17-2011 at 9:18 pm

    Avel said...

    “if, amid his legion of other activities, “visual artist” got dropped from his résumé, it wouldn’t be the most crushing of losses.”
    Haha, Guy, you remind me of wodehouse.

  • 14 2-17-2011 at 9:39 pm

    Carlo said...

    Although I admire his effort, sometimes it’s just a little bit too much effort? He might become a jack of all trades but a master of none.

    He wants to do too many things in life. Not that I blame him – I do too :-)

  • 15 2-19-2011 at 7:13 am

    Derek 8-Track said...

    @ Speaking English,

    Not Modern Art at all. You might be looking for Post Modernism or if you include his Soap Opera Project, Post Post Modernism.