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James Franco carries on the Warholian marriage of celebrity and art -- and who else?

August 12, 2010 |  9:15 am


Andy Warhol was the first modern artist to obliterate the line between celebrity culture and the art world. Today, no other star inhabits that fuzzy demilitarized zone better than James Franco.

Since escaping from the teen-idol ghetto, Franco has turned his celebrity status into a living, breathing work of art. Most recently, he embarked on a project with L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art in which he filmed an episode of the soap opera "General Hospital," playing an artist named Franco.

His other projects include abstract video works, sleeping in class, making weird proclamations in public and playing doppelganger to performance-art doyenne Marina Abramovic.

There has been an orgy of media coverage to satisfy Francophiles of all stripes. (A recent umpteen-thousand-word profile in New York magazine has surely thrilled the actor's publicists to no end.) Of course, publicity is almost certainly part of the ruse here. Like Warhol, Franco knows how to use the media as an adjunct to his sprawling, constantly redefining project of the self.

But Franco isn't unique in his attempt to bend his celebrity profile in avant-garde directions. Here's a short list of other stars who have dared to deviate from the Hollywood norm by placing their careers (deliberately or not) under a deconstructive lens.

Joaquin Phoenix, actor

The actor's career kamikaze move last year -- in which he grew a massive beard, acted out in public and claimed to be retiring from movies -- had many of his fans speculating if it was all just a ploy for some sort of bizarre personal art project. As it turns out, a documentary on Phoenix, titled "I'm Still Here," directed by Casey Affleck, is set to premiere later this year. Will Phoenix be able to out-meta Franco?

Lady Gaga, pop star

It goes without saying that the inescapable pop star is the essence of today's shape-shifting, media-obsessed celebrity-dom. Her calculated provocations are endlessly scrutinized by both TMZ and highbrow cultural critics. Of course, Lady Gaga could not exist without Madonna. Both stars live their careers as though they were texts waiting to be deconstructed by semioticians.

David Lynch, filmmaker

The maker of "Blue Velvet," "Twin Peaks and "Mulholland Dr." appears to have abandoned his film career in favor of all things digital and meditation-related. (He's an avid supporter of the Transcendental Meditation program.) The cult of Lynch is as weird as any of his movies. His ongoing projects -- including his folksy missives via Twitter and his online weather reports -- feel part of a carefully constructed and strangely impenetrable artistic persona.

Bob Dylan, singer-songwriter

The reigning king of self reinvention, Dylan remains as mysterious, enigmatic and essentially unknowable as he did at the beginning of his career. Todd Haynes' 2007 movie "I'm Not There" (whose title perhaps influenced the Phoenix/Affleck documentary) made literal the rock legend's constantly changing public image.

Did we forget anyone? Let us know in the comments section.

-- David Ng

Photo: James Franco at MOCA. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times


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