James Franco, Artist

I’m just back from “The Dangerous Book Four Boys,” actor James Franco’s first solo art exhibition. It’s at the Clocktower Gallery, which is affiliated with (part of?) Art International Radio (AIR), an Internet radio station about art that’s headquartered in the municipal building at 108 Leonard.* Franco, if you’re not sure who he is, has been in Milk, Spider-Man, Pineapple Express, and the upcoming Eat, Pray, Love.

Whether the art is worthwhile or not is something best left to time and critics, in that order, but it certainly is interesting, and it would be even if the artist weren’t famous (although in that case the exhibit wouldn’t be sponsored by Gucci). Named after the bestselling book about how to be a boy, the art is a little creepy and a little juvenile—intentionally juvenile, I should say—and on more than one occasion it brought Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho to mind. If you really do think you’ll see it, I encourage you not to read further or to look at the photos below, because there’s some entertainment value that’ll get spoiled.

The exhibit is subtitled “An Exhibition of Film, Photography, Sculpture and Performance.” The sculptures are the main pieces, simple plywood houses and a rocket. Inside the houses are films of a similar house burning; when you stick your head through the window of one of the houses, the effect is that you’re inside a burning house. In the rocket, you can feel a bass rumbling beneath you. I have little patience for video art, so I didn’t spend much time watching it—though the one pictured at top, Dicknose in Paris (2008), was notable. (I’m sorry if it’s NSFW! But I could hardly bury it! It’s the money shot.) The still photos were taken by Marianne Spurr, and there’s a lovely one that has “Begin at the beginning” written in it; my photo doesn’t do it justice. I would very much like to own that photo, which might be the highest compliment a minimalist can pay. There are also pages from The Dangerous Book for Boys that have been doodled on. The exhibit is in several rooms: a large, gorgeous room and two small, dark ones (one of which is very messy).

I won’t go on; the photos tell you everything you need to know. Except this: The Clocktower Gallery is worth visiting simply for the experience of being in a strange place; there are all sorts of funky architectural delights. The gallery will be open Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m., through September.

* I saw no evidence of the entrance being labeled as 108 Leonard. Basically, you walk down Leonard, east of Broadway, and the entrance is on the south side (look for heavy security). You have to pass through metal detectors—I even had to remove my belt—then take the elevator to the 12th floor. As you exit the elevators, head to your left, looking for the sign. Then go through the red door, walk up the stairs, and head down the hall—you’ll be able to find your way from there.



  1. Shock value with emphasis on the SHOCK. This is totally offensive & ridiculous & certainly NOT ART!

  2. I accidentally deleted a comment that praised Franco for expressing his inner turmoil. If it was yours, sorry!

  3. Er okay, so I guess no one here likes Tracey Emin or Damien Hirst or lets count SO many other artists who are worth millions but not as actually perceptive in his work as they are…

    Anyway, it’s all part of his thing isn’t it?

    Things or people are not what they seem…

  4. @DTrent. Your comment just made it art. Congratulations.

  5. i love the comment “It’s not art.” OF COURSE it’s art. ANY expression by an individual in any medium is art. that’s the very definition of art-a creative expression of an individual. The only question is whether that expression fits into another individual’s preconceived notions and/or limited experiences. Value judgements never determine whether something is art, they only determine if you appreciate that expression or not. That being said, I’ve spent pretty much my entire life giving everything I’ve got and then some to my art, and i’ll never even get a foot in the door of a new york gallery because I have no name, no star power, no influence. now that being said, i don’t make my art to gain fame so I guess it doesn’t really matter. it would be nice to be able to pay my bills and not be in debt all the time, but whatever. James Franco is an incredible human being from everything I’ve read, so I can’t possibly begrudge him the opportunities he’s made for himself. More Art, Less Judgment, that’s my motto. Peace to you JF!

  6. Is that the prosthetic penis he wore in Milk?

  7. Dropping names of established artists (Hirst, Emin) working in a similar vein does little to devalue to detract from the work – and ultimately only makes the critic look like an insecure know-it-all.

    If you don’t like the work *personally* then you need to own your own reaction, Rowan, and defend it in a more nuanced way than by (erroneously and myopically) declaring you’ve “seen it before.”

  8. My new puppy, Mister Wigglesworth, seems to enjoy pooing on the carpet. He thinks it’s art, I think it’s crap.