James Franco features in a new exhibition at the Pace Gallery in London Psycho Nacirema, an exhibition featuring multi-media installations by the American artist and actor James Franco and presented by the Scottish artist Douglas Gordon. Psycho Nacirema will be on view at Pace London, 6-10 Lexington Street, from 6 June to 3 August. It will be Franco’s first major exhibition in the UK. He will also be curating an exhibition at the Victoria Miro Gallery 8 June – 3 August.
Psycho Nacirema presents a mise-en-scène of direc- tor Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller Psycho, remodel- ling the infamous Bates Motel where the intrigue of the film takes place, intertwined with the 1920’s Arbuckle scandal. The artists first collaborated on the Rebel constella- tion, a work presented at the Venice Film Festival, in September 2011 and on Rebel, an exhibition presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2012. In these works, Franco acted as a producer for Gordon, while in Psycho Nacirema Gordon has acted as a curator and teacher for Franco.
In Psycho Nacirema, James Franco uses the motel structure as both a physical and literal frame- work, reinterpreting iconic scenes from the original film through evocative details such as the mo- tel neon signage or the infamous shower room where the film character Marion Crane, is murdered. One of Gordon’s most well-known works is 24 Hour Psycho (1993), a projection of Alfred Hitch- cock’s famous film slowed down to last an entire day which also sparked inspiration for the exhibition.
Franco’s installations heighten the psychological entrapment set out by Hitchcock, beckoning the audience to become a participating character within the plot. Split Marion, 2013 a diptych mirror in- stallation, prompts the viewer to join the artist to gaze and be gazed upon, projecting themselves as the characters of Marion Crane and Norman Bates. Compelled to identify with them, the audience is forced to recognise their own neurosis and psychological inadequacies generated by the silver-screen.
Psycho Nacirema makes numerous trans-historical juxtapositions. Principally using Hitchcock’s film as a starting reference, Franco twists it together with the real-life scandal of Fatty Arbuckle, the Hollywood star and first one-million-dollar paid actor charged with the death of the American model and silent film actress Virginia Rappe in September 1921. The Arbuckle case was filled with murky evidence and media speculations which shed a harsh light on the cinema industry.
Franco’s fascination with the subject leads to the final room of the exhibition. A four-way projected film which shows the re-enactment of the scenario that supposedly took place in Room 1219 where Arbuckle was found with Rappe who was mysteriously injured and distressed. Marrying the Psy- cho thriller with the Arbuckle scandal, the exhibition performs interplay of reality with fiction, com- pelling the viewers to address how cinema is entrenched in the modern collective consciousness.
“Film is the medium that employs all art forms, but it is contained within the screen. We take this multi-form idea and pull it through the screen, so that the different forms are once again ful- ly dimensional and a new nexus of interaction and significance is created. In this show, we go back to the original locations and images of Psycho and alter them so that once again the view- er’s relationship with the material changes. One becomes an actor when interacting with this work. Film becomes raw material and is sculpted into new work.” James Franco, May 2013.
Psycho Nacirema will be accompanied by a catalogue that features a discussion between both artists and Russell Ferguson, Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programmes and Chief Curator at the Ham- mer Museum, Los Angeles.
Cinematic Visions: Painting at the Edge of Reality Victoria Miro Gallery
Njideka Akunyili, Jules de Balincourt, Ali Banisadr, Hernan Bas, Joe Bradley, Cecily Brown, Peter Doig, Inka Essenhigh, Eric Fischl, Barnaby Furnas, David Harrison, Secundino Hernández, Nicholas Hlobo, Chantal Joffe, Sandro Kopp, Harmony Korine, Yayoi Kusama, Glenn Ligon, Wangechi Mutu, Alice Neel, Chris Ofili, Celia Paul, Philip Pearlstein, Elaine Reichek, Luc Tuymans, Adriana Varejão, Suling Wang, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.
Since the infancy of cinema, when moviegoers would watch in disbelief as two-dimensional images leapt into life, painting and film have enjoyed a fruitful if sometimes fraught relationship. Cinematic Visions: Painting at the Edge of Reality (8 June to 3 August) takes as its starting point an ongoing dialogue between the two media, looking at the enduring influence of film on visual artists and how in an age of the Internet and social media painters continue to engage with and redefine their practice in relation to the moving image. At the exhibition’s heart are questions about time, technology, narrative, memory and their impact upon contemporary painting.
The exhibition brings together a broad spectrum of leading artists, prompting thematic conversations across generations, between those who rose to prominence during the closing decades of the last century and younger artists who have found their voice in today’s world, a place of incalculably more images, where distinct movements have given way to heterogeneity and the availability of and reliance on technology is taken as given. Shifting ideas about portraiture and our relationship to the body are central themes. Ian and Mary, 1971, by the late American painter Alice Neel, is one of a handful of images in the exhibition painted directly from life, yet in her spare, urgent paintings Neel, who famously stated ‘I don’t do realism’ always alerts us to pictorial shifts and disjunctions that trigger psychological readings beyond the painted surface. Painted four decades later, Chantal Joffe’s Jessica, 2012, a portrait of the actress Jessica Chastain, was made by remarkably different means. The result of a photographic shoot directed remotely by Joffe via Skype, the painting could be regarded as an archetypal twenty-first-century hybrid – an oil painting derived from a photographic image, which was created via camera and screen with artist and model thousands of miles apart. Joffe’s is certainly a highly mediated image, yet her direct painterly approach bestows a convincing physicality that, as with Neel’s painting, transcends space and time.
Painting, like film, is revealed to be a powerful motor in the creation of fiction. Like cinematic moments, many of the works in the exhibition invite us to construct a whole from isolated images. In Eric Fischl’s Victoria Falls, 2013, figures ascending and descending are caught in a moment of stasis that resembles a perilous psychological dance. The noir-ish scene depicted in Hernan Bas’ HOAX REVEALED: the Devil of Deckheart Manor caught on film, 2013, reads like a still from an imagined movie, one in which the central character – a figure in disguise – seems humorously to question ideas of authenticity and authorship.
Peter Doig, whose practice over the past twenty years has drawn heavily on the language of cinema, layers the personal and public, figurative and abstract, visual and conceptual in works that resonate with narrative potential. In 2003, Doig started a film club, StudioFilmClub, in his studio near Port of Spain, Trinidad, making posters for the weekly screenings. An audience member walking in front of the screen, casting a shadow across the moving image, inspired the artist to create a version of Lapeyrouse Wall, one of a number of works by Doig that depict a mysterious figure walking beside a cemetery wall. In Doig’s shadow world the real and cinematic merge. Fittingly, the image was eventually reproduced as a poster for the 2008 Trinidad Tobago Film Festival.
While several of the images in Cinematic Visions appear haunted or suggest heightened states, as in the metaphysical world conjured by Chris Ofili in Ovid-Windfall, 2011-2012, others seem subject to unseen forces or interior compressions. For many artists in the exhibition, the radical language of modernist painting developed during the early twentieth century – of collapsing and expanding picture planes responding to the frenetic pace and fragmentary encounters of modern life – continues to evolve as distortions and mutations of the image take on new permutations with each technological advance. Cinematic Visions examines how, through a variety of painterly strategies and gestures, figuration starts to break down and, conversely, how a residual figurative substratum can be found in even the most apparently abstract image. In Cecily Brown’s Sweetly Reminiscent, Something Mother Used to Make, 2013, brush marks and body parts, paint and flesh, begin to dance in a contemporary bacchanal. The cut and splice of Wangechi Mutu’s hybrid figures and Inka Essenhigh’s sinuous biomorphs, meanwhile, seem to exist on a sliding scale between figuration and abstraction, realism and surrealism.
For many artists the questions, diversions, doubts and decisions of the painting process become ways of altering an image’s rhythm, narrative and meaning. If film has the capacity to capture its subject in an instant and painting, by its nature, requires time for its production, the decelerated space of painting becomes an expanded arena for enquiry. Painted surfaces invite the eye to linger. Working between surface and image, flatness and materiality, source and transformation, artists such as Peter Doig, Chris Ofili, Eric Fischl and Luc Tuymans harness the operations of memory and desire to uniquely atmospheric ends. In more abstract works by Yayoi Kusama, Adriana Varejão,and Nicholas Hlobo, embellished surfaces are designed to engage the mind while leading the eye on an orchestrated journey around the picture plane.
It is through these shifts and nuances of pace and touch that the paintings in Cinematic Visions address the slippery world of image making and image reading in the twenty-first century, where access can be instantaneous yet often at one remove and the screen dominates experience. If individually some of the works bear a resemblance to film stills, installed across all three spaces of Victoria Miro Gallery the paintings gain a cumulative momentum that can be thought of as a kind of tracking shot. Narrative threads are revealed and renewed with each experience of viewing. The act of looking becomes cinematic.
James Franco, (b. 1978, Palo Alto, CA) is considered a leading actor of his generation as well as being a multitalented writer and visual artist. Drawing from his experience in film and television work, Franco has produced a body of video works, multimedia installations, and large-scale sculptures. His conceptual artworks range across media including painting, drawing, film, sculpture, installation and photography.
He’s been in group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and at the Museum of Contem- porary Art, Los Angeles. Franco holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Brooklyn College and is currently a graduate film student at Tisch School for the Arts at New York University and a PhD candidate at Yale University. He also studies poetry at Warren Wilson College. He lives and works in New York & Los Angeles.