A couple of weeks ago, we posted James Franco’s self-portraiture imitating Cindy Sherman’s 1970s student project photographs in which she impersonates the roles of iconic women in film; these photographs are on view at PACE Gallery until May 3. A testament to the receptiveness of audiences to Franco’s work, this post performed quite well. Franco has now imitated another artist for work to be displayed at PACE, following the Cindy Sherman imitations, but this time, without (yet) giving proper credit.
In 2011, Christopher Schulz self-published a 32-page book of Seth Rogen fan art; Franco’s upcoming gallery show features nude paintings of Rogen, some that appear to be directly based on (read: copied from) Schulz’s portraits. ArtNet notes that this new work has not been very warmly received by the internet; Huffington Post condemns Franco for “continuing to engage in what some view as blatant homophobia, because comedy,” Dlisted calls Franco a “douchier Shia LaDouche,” and A.V. Club claims the paintings are plagiarism.
At this point, James Franco has delved into many different worlds: academia (once a graduate student in 4 programs at the same time), soap opera, television, and film acting, film-making, fiction and pseudo-academic writing, and performance art. I try not to be annoyed by people, especially artists of all stripes, but James Franco is one person I can barely tolerate at this point. Aside from playing the role of Alien in “Spring Breakers,” I can’t really get on board with anything he is pursuing (especially the “critical” essays he writes for Vice wherein he makes obvious arguments that lack depth). I don’t know what to think about him, and I’m beginning to feel jaded with his pursuits. No one seems to know if Franco takes himself seriously, or if anyone should. Some have even speculated that his recent, creepy propositioning of a minor was performance art, or a marketing ploy for his latest film.
In 2010, Sam Anderson, writing for New York Magazine, conducts a critical investigation into Franco’s life, exploring his Hollywood career as performance art and asking a few questions that are central and just as pertinent to our current experience of Franco in 2014:
(1) Can James Franco possibly be for real?
(2) If he is, then—just logistically—how is all this possible?
(3) And perhaps the biggest mystery of all: Why is Franco doing it? Are his motives honest or dishonest? Neurotic or healthy? Arrogant or humble? Ironic or sincere? Naïve or sophisticated? Should we reward him with our attention or punish him with our contempt? Is he genuinely trying to improve himself or is he just messing with us—using celebrity itself as the raw material for some kind of public prank?