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James Franco, avant-garde muse

April 21, 2009 |  5:00 pm

It's not every day that a hot Hollywood star takes a detour off Sunset Boulevard and into avant-garde art territory. We expect that sort of thing from moody European actors, not from publicist-groomed studio chattel.

But if anyone can do it, James Franco can. In the past year, the young actor who most recently appeared in "Milk" has earned his multi-tasker cred by writing a volume of short stories, attending class at Columbia University (albeit asleep), watching the entire Criterion DVD collection and engaging in other forms of general weirdness.

He's not the strangest Hollywood actor around (hello, Joaquin!), but we're pretty sure his agents aren't exactly the happiest people at the moment.

Now it turns out Franco has also carved out a side career in experimental video art. Earlier this month at MoMA in New York, the artist known as Carter presented his latest work, a 63-minute piece titled "Erased James Franco." The actor plays himself (or a version thereof) and proceeds to enact scenes from Todd Haynes' "Safe" and John Frankenheimer's "Seconds" as well as his own performance in "Spider-Man."

Artforum ran an amusing analysis of the work by the critic Dennis Lim (who also happens to be a frequent Times contributor). "Not unlike Warhol’s 'Screen Tests,' it becomes a de facto study of screen magnetism," he writes. "Franco, even in this oddly muffled mode, retains his drowsy, goofy charm; far from a tabula rasa, he’s not erased so much as distilled."

"Erased James Franco" will travel to other museums, but no cities have been finalized yet, according to the artist Carter's representatives. (Wouldn't L.A. be the ideal city for a work of this nature? LACMA, are you reading this?) For the impatient among you, here's a clip from the movie (above) from the artist's YouTube channel.

Franco can also be seen in a short experimental video titled "The Room: Before and After" in the latest issue of McSweeney's Wolphin. In the video, which is directed by Dave Eggars, Franco is one of three actors to trash a bedroom and then offer a deconstruction of his actions.

If only all young, good-looking stars were so willing to take time out from their careers for the sake of art. Culture Monster admires Franco, though we admit that we also fear for his sanity.

— David Ng

Video: a clip from "Erased James Franco" by Carter.

Comments () | Archives (15)

ERASED is a bit too 'artsy' for me although Mr. Franco is a young man I LOVE admiring - not for his 'politics' but for his many..........talents!

Don't forget that he's also recently completed production on Howl, where he plays Alan Ginsberg!

"and engaging in other forms of general weirdness.
He's not the strangest Hollywood actor around (hello, Joaquin!), but we're pretty sure his agents aren't exactly the happiest people at the moment."

What weirdness are we talkiing about here? Please explain!

Uh, there is no avant garde in Hollywood,let alone the art world. No one who graduates from an art school could possibly ever be called "avant garde", they are the most inside people on earth. Spoiled, soft, sheltered, myopic, self centered, whiny, over educated, Pavlovs dogs responding to their masteres whims, the rich patrons of art academies and the whole museo/academy/gallery complex. No change will ever come from within the belly of the stinking tofu filled beast. Change comes form unexpected sources, outside, out to destory the hollow edifice of "fine art". No silly hollywood brat will change that, more therapy art is all, exhibitionist, and totally irrelevant to humanity.

art collegia delenda est

Even by Hollywood standards that was some horrible acting. Was he trying out for BH 90210? Or is he on it already, never heard of the child, and would like to keep it that way.

art collegia e method acting delenda est

Can someone tell me what the general weirdness and unhappy agents thing is all about?

You know, I'd bet 1000 dollars, just by looking at your work, that you've got a degree in some studio art stuffed somewhere yourself.

I honestly can't tell if you're being ironic now, because if you are serious about anything you've just said you're at least three shades of hypocrite.

Never went to an art school in my life, avoided them as the plague upon mankind they are. Born of an artist and an athlete, i will take athletes for lack of hypocrisy and hard work anyday. Do I know a little something about art? Hell yah, because I have studied it,intenseey, the only place it can be learned, in museums and through books. Not wannabes in art schools. theorists without a clue. One must have a life before one can say anything through visual arts, or any other. Sterile academies are the last place to ever become a creative artist. applied arts yes, but that of the museums? That which communicates of mankind, god and nature, how we are intertwined as one? Nothing is built in a vacuum, we build upon our common past. And are born an emplty vessel, it must be filled and fermented,before it can pour out life giving sustenance.

come by and see me tonight, the Braley Building in Pasadena, or tomorrow. Wine, women and song guaranteed. Even one or two manly men,unheard of in the art world, I know.

art collegia delenda est

I take that back. I took photo classes at LBCC and ONE at Art Center when I was 22. All applied photo, archectual and product using view camera, mostly learned on my own in the dark rooms available, and could check out camera equiptment I couldnt afford. til I won some competitions. Worked checking out the gear too, and taught the students far better than the idiot teachers, only had two good ones.

Also took one semester of art history, and a beginning painting class. Does that make me a hypocrit?
No art schools involved. Art is learned by doing and living, and learning from those who have done, not the words of mediocrities.

art collegia delenda est

So Donald, this isn't you?


"Attended Long Beach City College, at first with a History major in mind. Switched to photography, getting a degree, and winning many college competitions."

Frankly, I don't care where interesting work comes from and I think there is no one true path. I don't know why it bugs me when people take such a staunch stance in any direction, but...

Actually, nevermind. Not much you've said makes sense under examination, I'm gonna stop now. I'm not a big fan of many institutional systems, but I'm even less of a fan of overworn and illogical debates.

Missed you CK and MAN dude. See you today.

Life isnt logical, its organic, and much bigger than a mere mortal can ever understand.
This is the basis of all true art, understanding our world visually, not through manmade and mutabable symbols called words. It is felt, when truth is here. Not of the verbal world, but a matured, developed instinct, using the rest of the mind, as well as body and soul, Much larger than the tiny Logic recesses of this fatty, evolved, organic orb we call a brain. Academic solutions are always as an autopsy, a guessing how things work from investigating a dead thing, art after it is made. you have no idea on how it is truly created, or why. Buncha pseudo intellectuals in search of control, and socializing with fellow mediocrities. . Buncha vain hedonists looking for excuses to party. Buncha, well, who cares anyway? We got work to do, undoing the damage of the last fifty years. Back to it.

Have a nice day.

See you today, or not, Your loss, my gain. My life is full. Artistes are just full of it.

art collegia delenda est

Thats right, and as I said, no art school. Since when has a commercial photo class at a junior college been an art school? Wheres my $1,000 bucks?

wah wah wah wah wahhh
everyone stop whining about things you don't like and go do/make something better


I did, a long time ago, and have continued to, after a break doing the most creative things a man can do, raise his kids. like any artiste has the juevos to do that. Self absorbed children they are.

art collegia delenda est


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