James Franco packs MOCA for lecture and book-signing

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James Franco is as meta as it gets, the ultimate in creative cross-pollination. He’s an actor-turned-artist-turned-author-turned-actor-playing-an-artist-named-Franco in the soap opera “General Hospital.’ His new self-referential filmic offshoot, “Francophrenia” documents that experience. He’s also been cast in the upcoming Seth Rogen movie, in which he plays -- who else -- the actor-artist-author James Franco.

Drawing on all those areas of interest, Franco appeared at MOCA on Saturday in conversation with art theorist and Rhode Island School of Design digital culture lecturer Francisco Ricardo. The sold-out event –- which drew an appropriately young, hip-looking crowd of roughly 200 -- marked the release of Franco’s new book, “The Dangerous Book Four Boys.” The book is a companion to the 2010 New York exhibition of the same name and collects interviews, photographs and multimedia artworks around the themes of childhood and media, among other things.


Not surprisingly, however, Saturday’s conversation defied compartmentalization and strayed much farther afield. After a somewhat heady and hilarious dissection of Franco’s short film “Dicknose in Paris” (a clip was shown), the conversation ricocheted among topics, including Franco’s love of Faulkner; insider stories about director Nicholas Ray; Natalie Wood and Dennis Hopper during the filming of “Rebel Without a Cause”; and the upcoming MOCA show called “Rebel.” The latter, a high-concept group show that Franco conceived, is inspired by the iconic James Dean film and opens in May. It’s brimming with art world star power with works by Ed Ruscha, Harmony Korine, Damon McCarthy, Paul McCarthy, Douglas Gordon, Terry Richardson, Aaron Young and Franco.

In his short introduction to the lecture, MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch said Franco was at the forefront of an emerging progressive culture. “One of the biggest things happening in the art world is this idea of expansion,” he said. “No one embodies this aspect of what art is becoming better than James Franco.” During an interview with Culture Monster after the show, Franco -- who’s also pursuing a degree in digital culture at RISD and says he’s aiming to start course work at Yale -- was more modest about his multifaceted creative career.

“I feel like a lot of artists have been doing that for a long time. Just look at Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley -- sculpture, performance, painting, they had a band. Andy Warhol –- painting, film, sculpture, music,” he said. “The big difference is I came from the film world and went into the art world.”

Franco says he’s aware of his skeptics but owns the issue, instead of the other way around. “People are always gonna be skeptical of celebrity. But I’ve kind of laid claim to that and that’s become part of the work.”

Which is, of course, appropriately meta.


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-- Deborah Vankin