As some 500 people stood in line Thursday night outside New York City’s Pace Gallery, waiting for the opening of James Franco’s latest art show, a band of 20-something hipster types rolled by on their skateboards. “The next Basquiat!” one of them derisively shouted at the crowd, his black skinny jeans hugging his even skinnier legs. “He doesn’t fucking do shit! I would never wait in line for James Franco!”
Franco may be the “leading actor of his generation,” per the exhibit’s press material, but his latest collection, titled New Film Stills (on display until May 3), is something just short of original. And the actor knows it. In the series, he purposefully recreates Cindy Sherman’s classic Untitled Film Stills, her late-’70s photographs in which she stars as costumed characters from various faux films. But none of his affectation or appropriation seem to matter to his swarms of fans, who might not know enough about art to judge the pictures’ worth in the first place.
This isn’t selfie-expert Franco’s first foray into the art world, of course, but it’s definitely his most self-absorbed one. In his previous shows, Franco has served as curator, creator and director, but generally not star. Now plastered on the walls at Pace are dreamy photos of the MFA candidate in myriad states of vintage dress; not a single other person is featured in the pictures.
“I am fully embedded in Hollywood, but these photos allow me to take a step to the side, look back and refashion the work I do in Hollywood,” Franco says in his press release. “I am at the same time actor, critic, artist and character.”
Photos aside, the show may or may not be pure publicity bullshit. While Franco advertised the opening multiple times on Instagram—where, as you likely recall, he’s recently been verbally intimate with his young followers—he never actually showed up to the event. You wouldn’t know it from Instagram, though, as he posted photos of the show’s first night, apparently taken by someone else.
The true magic of the show rests within the people who show up to gawk: NYU Tisch School of the Arts students (“Oh my god, we have to tell James how many people showed up,” one whispered to a friend at the opening), swooning girls and black-clad art types. Franco’s no-show didn’t really matter Thursday, anyway, with all his alter-egos hanging on the wall.
It’s no surprise that the multi-faceted Franco, who recently starred in a new Gucci ad, also crafted poems for each of his photographs. However, none of those complementary works made the actual walls (press kit only). Words would probably take away from the show’s focus on Franco’s clear complexion and well-groomed scruff.
Judging by the crowd, it seems Franco can pen even the crappiest essays, or put his face in any derivative photo, and still get people to show up. This echoes Franco’s previous philosophy on art: “A well-stocked collection of selfies seems to get attention,” Franco wrote last year in The New York Times. “And attention seems to be the name of the game when it comes to social networking.”