James Franco’s latest journey into the world of art is “New Film Stills,” a photography project that is on display at the Pace Gallery in New York City through May 3. The multi-talented actor’s work is a tribute to Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills,” in which she posed for different classic cinema stereotypes given to women. Franco’s take is basically just that the star of This is the End is dressing up as a woman, because… art.
As I’m hardly an art expert, it’s kind of difficult to explain based on descriptions from the Pace Gallery website and random articles on the Internet, so I’ll let Mr. Franco describe his own vision and artistic ambition himself.
“Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills broke new ground in so many ways: they can be read as critique of portrayals of women in film, a critique that goes hand in hand with the work of critic Laura Mulvey; they can be read as performances; as photographs; as examinations of types; they are both humorous and earnest. Cindy is an artist who used cinema as a source for her work; she ‘played’ at being an actress. I am an actor who inserts himself into his work. Where Cindy used cinema as a starting place, I use art as a starting place. She, like so many of my favorite artists (Douglas Gordon, Richard Prince, Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Paul McCarthy) uses cinema in her work, but she comes at it from a position outside of Hollywood. I am fully embedded in Hollywood, but these photos allow me to take a step to the side, look back, and refashion the work I do in Hollywood. I am at the same time actor, critic, artist, and character.”
James Franco. So, so brave. Obviously, Franco is pretty amped up about his own work, and he certainly thinks that he is one of the greatest actors, artists, writers, drivers, golfers, scientists, poets, scuba divers, and paper airplane makers of our generation, so it’s kind of unfair to the art to rely on just the word of the artist. Instead, let’s take a look at New York Times art critic Roberta Smith’s take on “New Film Stills,” shall we?
Perhaps James Franco should just stick to acting. He remains embarrassingly clueless when it comes to art.
Ohhhhhhhhh shit, son. Get the popcorn ready. It’s an art fight.
In her film stills, Ms. Sherman all but disappeared into various female stereotypes bestowed upon women by film: the new-to-the-city secretary, the put-upon housewife, the sex kitten, the single glamour girl. Mr. Franco, in contrast, is never less than Mr. Franco, his mustache, beard or hairy legs in full view, his face in an expression of studied vulnerability or simply a look-at-me smirk.
But… but that’s art!
And it only gets worse. In addition to reproducing the 25 or so images presented in the show, the catalog contains 65 excruciatingly sophomoric poems written by Mr. Franco in reaction to nearly all the Sherman film stills. Often written from the woman’s point of view, these are either printed on their own or paired with the appropriate Franco do-over image.
There once was a poet named Franco, who made all the critics dismissively wank-o.
The deep content here, beneath the entitled narcissism, is a confused desperation that seems to drive Mr. Franco’s pursuit of visual art. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for him, while also wishing that someone or something would make him stop.
But if he stops, then who will give us the acting and poetry and art and recipes for gluten-tree tacos? James Franco is art. Art is James Franco. So it is written.