James Franco is James Dean in his next art-world project, to debut during opening of Venice Biennale


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James Franco is at it again. Like the artist’s ‘General Hospital’-goes-to-MOCA fiction-reality mash-up last year, his new project associated with the Venice Biennale promises to be a case where ‘high’ art and pop culture fuse into one mind-bending Moebius strip.

Called ‘Rebel,’ it’s a site-specific installation/exhibition that pays homage to the 1955 movie ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ with contributions by Franco, Douglas Gordon, Harmony Korine, Damon McCarthy, Paul McCarthy, Ed Ruscha and Aaron Young. The curator is Dominic Sidhu, who recently curated a show of artwork from the movie ‘Black Swan.’ MOCA is listed as the “partnering organization,” which a spokesperson says means “we are primarily a promotional partner.”


Expect bad-boy antics, in various works exploring themes of masculinity, self-destruction and Hollywood with Ruscha chiming in at some point as a narrator. Gordon has made a multi-channel film on method acting with actor Henry Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s son. Korine makes his own piece reinterpreting the classic switchblade fight scene in the original movie with machetes wielded by two female gangs instead. Young provides footage of motorcycle and car crashes. Paul and Damon McCarthy make a video exploring the making of the original “Rebel” movie that features Franco in the role of James Dean. It’s a role he knows well--he played Dean in a 2001 TNT movie.

Franco, who had a hand in the other artists’ projects, also made work for this show in homage to the actor Brad Renfro, who died in 2008 at age 25 of a heroin overdose. He had Renfro’s name carved into his right arm with a switchblade, documenting the carving in photography and film. (The carving itself could be seen as one of the show’s more permanent artworks.)

MOCA bills the whole thing as a prism “fracturing the themes and events housed within the original film and reframing them in an unresolved conceptual amalgam.”

All of the projects, running June 2 through the fall, will be installed on Certosa, an island with a rich military and religious history that is now known as a yachting center. It’s accessible by boat from the main island where the Venice Biennale is held.

--Jori Finkel



James Franco and his ‘General Hospital’ performance art project

James Franco carries on the Warholian marriage of celebrity and art

James Franco, avant-garde muse

Images, from top: James Franco and Ed Ruscha in preparation for ‘Rebel’ (2011), photo by Doug Chamberlain. Production still, courtesy Franco and Aaron Young, photo by Aaron Young.