James Franco's MOCA Show Opening Night: 'There's Just a Lot of Dicks in There'
Terry Richardson's James Franco in Drag, Courtesy of the artist and OHWOW Gallery Franco poses in drag for fashion photographer Terry Richardson, as part of the "Rebel" exhibit currently on display at JF Chen.
"There's just a lot of dicks in there. A lot of porno," painter Ty Williams says, shaking his head. "But I get it, though. I understand the prevalence of penises."
We're standing in the alleyway behind JF Chen, a collectible-furniture showroom and exhibit space, at the opening party for "Rebel," an off-site MOCA multimedia extravaganza produced by the world's most famous grad student, James Franco, in collaboration with an all-star cast of contemporary artists, including Ed Ruscha, Aaron Young, Terry Richardson, Paul McCarthy and Douglas Gordon.
Though Franco was somehow involved in all of the projects shown here, and his ongoing obsession with the sexual secrets and adolescent turmoil behind James Dean and Rebel Without a Cause drives the exhibit, the lineup of bigwigs confers an air of legitimacy lacking at some of Franco's previous shows and stunts.
The exhibit itself has been impressively built-out, looking like a soundstage resembling the Chateau Marmont, with videos playing in individual bungalows and shrubbery strewn with blow-up sex dolls and other detritus referencing the art.
And yes, there were a number of penises on display inside, as Franco and his partners grappled with the pent-up, feverish sexuality of adolescence by exploring, among other themes, the homoerotic tension on-screen in the 1955 film, Dean's real-life bisexuality and a smattering of behind-the-scenes affairs that reportedly took place before and during the shooting of the movie.
A lawyer in an angular black-and-white patterned dress stands with her fiancé, debating the merits of all that skin.
"I don't understand the significance, except to highlight that sex is a commodity and the cheapness of it and the artificiality of it," she says. "Is it that, or is it just sex to sell the art?"
Of the many smutty pieces in the exhibit, the biggest crowd-pleaser was Galen Pehrson's animated El Gato video, which reimagines the movie's fatal game of chicken using horny but cutesy animals, featuring the voices of Franco, actress Jena Malone and musician Devendra Banhart.
But for Yvette Saunders and Carina Christmas, two of the women who stripped nude, carried machetes and rode pink and orange fluorescent bikes for Caput, Harmony Korine's slo-mo video re-enactment of the knife fight in Rebel Without a Cause, the raw sexuality is a celebration, not a marketing technique.
Photo courtesy of the artist Harmony Korine's Caput (2011) featuring James Franco and Eddie Peel
The two became friends after the video shoot, a year and a half ago. Christmas fondly remembers Saunders wore an animal-print thong to the audition.
The jaded jet set, however, was not convinced. I found two affable, older British gentlemen chuckling near the entrance. Henry Brocklehurst, who lives in Maui and casually mentioned that he owns a castle-turned-art gallery back in England, gestures to the neon "Chateau Marmont" sign above us and the camera-ready building facades all around.
"It's over the top," he says. "I would describe it as pretentious, average and mildly irritating." He walks off to deliver a warm hello to MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch.
Brocklehurst's friend, David Philp, says he also was annoyed by the show but enjoyed the "motorbikes and naked trollops, the perennial preoccupations of heterosexual men."
Philp's wife, veteran L.A. art critic Hunter Drohojowska-Philp (formerly of L.A. Weekly), was a bit more polite. "I'm interested in how James Franco sort of insinuated himself into other people's art, which is a bit more subversive," she says. "I mean, the whole thing is really all about James Franco. He certainly has a lot of energy, but then he's very young. Is he here yet, by the way?"