James Franco is best known for his roles in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 127 Hours and Howl, but many of his fans are not aware that he has just curated an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles based on the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause.
In 2001 Franco starred in a television biopic of James Dean and has since felt a certain affinity with the actor. Nearly fifty years after Dean’s tragic death, ‘Rebel’ immortalizes the actor and the darker side of 1950s American culture. Joining the ever-active Franco in the exhibition are: Ed Ruscha, Douglas Gordon, Damon McCarthy, Paul McCarthy, Aaron Young, Harmony Korine, and Terry Richardson. This group show encompasses a variety of artistic media and relate to the subject directly and in more abstract forms. Opening the exhibition is an Ed Ruscha painting featuring the world ‘rebel’ in white over a dark mountain. Other artists explore the themes of masculinity, automobile and motorcycle culture, and difficult family relationships. Franco includes some of his own artistic output in the exhibition establishing another facet of his evolving career. Primarily working in film seems a natural progression for the actor as he continues to broaden his horizons of production. Commentary on the exhibition so far is fairly neutral, praising Franco for his multi-tasking ability though skimming over critique of curatorial and artistic talent.
To immerse himself in the role of James Dean, Franco went from being a non-smoker to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. He dyed his dark brown hair blond, and learned to ride a motorcycle as well as play guitar and the bongos. To have a greater understanding of Dean, Franco spent hours with two of Dean’s associates. Other research included reading books on Dean and studying his movies.While filming James Dean, the actor, to get into character, cut off communication with his family and friends, as well as his then-girlfriend. “It was a very lonely existence,” he notes. “If I wasn’t on a set, I was watching James Dean.”Despite already being a fan of Dean, Franco feared he might be typecast if he’d captured the actor too convincingly. Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly wrote: “Franco could have walked through the role and done a passable Dean, but instead gets under the skin of this insecure, rootless young man. He received a Golden Globe Award and nominations for an Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for the role.
Franco was born in Palo Alto, California in 1978. He obtained a BA from the University of California, Los Angeles and an MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. He is currently enrolled in the Digital Media Department at the Rhode Island School of Design. An acclaimed actor, Franco is also actively engaged in performance art, painting, video, and installation art. He has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Clocktower Gallery, New York, and Peres Projects, Berlin.
In 2011 he exhibited work at the Gagosian gallery, a reworked Gus Van Sant’s 1991 movie My Own Private Idaho which ran alongside eight new works on paper by the filmmaker at the Beverly Hills gallery. Renamed Endless Idaho, Franco used behind-the-scenes and deleted footage to transform My Own Private Idaho into a twelve-hour film. When you’re through with that, you can enjoy Franco’s My Own Private River, shots of River Phoenix set to an original score by Michael Stipe. Words: Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2012
His latest ‘Rebel’ exhibition opened on 16 May until 23 June, Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles . Franco also coordinated a book/catalogue to accompany the exhibition