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Still from James Franco’s “Three’s Company: The Drama” now on view at Asia Song Society (all photos by author)

Saturday, August 6, marked the opening of James Franco’s latest venture into the art world. High/Low Rob Lowe opened at Terence Koh’s Asia Song Society on Canal Street, but closed indefinitely the day after opening (and will not reopen). We know many of you have been suffering from Franco fatigue. Thoughts are definitely mixed about the actor’s rise in the commercial gallery world. Is he the real deal or just an over privileged famous guy? Honestly, he seems genuine, but that doesn’t mean he deserves the coverage he has gotten. Whatever you think, this whole Franco art thing doesn’t seem to be going away. In fact, this show seems to be one of several Franco related art events this month, including a collaboration with Gus Van Sant currently showing at P.S. 1.

Unlike his work at PS 1, which also had a run at Gagosian, the actor seems to have invested a significant amount of his own time and money into this latest show. The gallery’s main upstairs space features Franco’s new video short “Three’s Company: The Drama.” As the name suggests, the piece re-imagines the well-known 1970s sitcom as a raucous drama. The installation features six channels, overlapping at precariously tilted angles in a sort of projected collage. Ok, so I’ll admit its funny. I laughed out loud after hearing the characters sing, spoofing the original theme song, “Come and knock on my balls.”

A tower of TV monitors at High/Low, Rob Lowe

The gallery’s basement is host to an installation of 50 TV monitors, each playing a segment of what seems to be hundreds of hours of Franco’s home movies, shot on 8mm film and his iPhone. The videos document a wide range of subjects, from the moody and evocative planes of Utah to nostalgic, fanboy footage of Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty.” The whole thing feels delightfully messy; unkempt thoughts spilling out into the darkness of the dusty basement hallway. Needless to say, it’s visceral, highly personal and the one part of the exhibition that I found really engaging.

A few Franco fatigued make their way out of “Three’s Company: The Drama,” while others watch on couches in the gallery

I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting to like this show. Paying attention to Mr. Franco can be like watching an MFA student work in his studio while on national television. It’s an unavoidable truth that if this guy wasn’t a movie star, his show probably wouldn’t be given the time of day. That being said, I don’t think the show was groundbreaking or breathtaking, but it was solid. It worked, and that’s good enough for me. The way I feel, it’s kind of like watching your child (if you have one, which I don’t, but bare with me) grow up playing with a Fischer Price stove. Then one day you find yourself in the kitchen watching little Billy make you a grilled cheese sandwich. You eat it and it’s not spectacular but its food, but you are proud none the less.

High/Low, Rob Lowe was at the Asia Song Society (45 Canal Street, Chinatown, Manhattan) beginning on August 6, was closed the following day and it will not reopen.

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3 replies on “Franco Fatigue”

  1. Regarding the question of his authenticity as an artist in light of his celebrity, if we are going to have to deal with him (and it seems like he’s serious about sticking around), then we have to look at his movie-star-ness as part of the material of the work, mainly because he is aware of it himself. Lots of artists flirt with celebrity and cast movie stars in the service of their work, either exploring or exploiting the glint of their screen presence–Aitken, Vezzoli, Warhol etc. If James Franco is interested in plumbing (or skimming?) the psychology of this identity from inside his own brain, I say why not. Rather than look at it as ‘art’, strictly speaking, it could be argued that he is attempting to expand the field of his own profession, using the artworld as a vehicle to probe the definitions of the studio system and what it means to be a ‘star’ in this day and age. I say this in the spirit of optimism, not apologism…

    1. If his work comes from the inside, that may be interesting. I think what he’s done so far has simply made him seem empty and bored. I guess the notion of stardom is less interesting to me than other people. Also, I think we should start questioning an art institution that give an art newbie like Franco a solo show when he hasn’t proven anything substantial yet.

      1. The stardom element is annoying, and so is Franco’s open definition of who an artist is, which seems to be anyone who shifts people’s perception. It’s like Stallone’s paintings at ABMB two years ago–you have to wonder why people are backing him. It’s something to be wary of when the work isn’t mind-blowing. I suppose the supporting galleries are playing with the meaning of money, which is tired and dull.

        But it’s also nice to see an artist in popular culture. Since when does an artist get air time on any major national news station? Not since Mapplethorpe, maybe, and that wasn’t exactly in a positive light. Perhaps Franco can help more people get involved in the art scene and bring artists to the forefront of society. There are some amazing thinkers among the artistic community, and it’s sad that their voices are so quiet compared to pop stars and actors.

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