James Franco's Photoshop Instagram portrait of himself in one of the videos from Paul McCarthy's "WS" (all photos via Instagram)

James Franco’s Photoshop Instagram portrait of himself in one of the videos from Paul McCarthy’s “WS” (all photos via @jamesfrancotv on Instagram)

Just when you thought art reality TV couldn’t get any worse, something comes along to suggest otherwise. In two words: James Franco.

Yes, James Franco is making a reality TV show, which in and of itself isn’t very interesting. But James Franco Presents, airing on Ovation TV, “will document his provocative explorations of the world of art,” according to the press release. The announcement also includes this take on the show by Franco himself:

“This is a show where content dictates form and form dictates content. It is an art show that is an art piece, meaning the show has synched with the rhythms of my life and work.”

Who give this man a book deal?

The show will feature “thousands of hours from James’ personal video library,” or, in Maggie Lange’s words on Gawker, will be “a space for him to chat about shit he loves.” All of which would be fine and a whole lot less annoying if it weren’t framed in the context of capital-A Art. But it is. In addition to the press release — which abounds with the “world of art,” “art show,” “art piece,” “art films,” “every artistic genre,” “iconic artist friends,” “fine arts,” and “arts communities” — Franco announced the show with a return to his favorite new medium: arty Photoshop Instagram (see his Paul McCarthy above). The recent series features three self-portraits with his face Photoshopped onto famous artworks.

First, there was the devilish Mona Lisa:


Next, van Gogh with both ears:


And finally, the laughing-while-high “Scream”:


Viewers will note, of course, that he hasn’t only put his face on these works; he’s written all over them, turning the already commodified images into advertisements for himself. He’s also chosen three of the most iconic artworks in the world, as if to hammer home the point that what I’m doing really is art while also seeming to mock art itself. One wonders if he thinks he’s being transgressive with these self-portraits, scribbling all over the canon. While we do give him credit for taking the selfie to the next level, we can’t help but point out that Marcel Duchamp messed with the Mona Lisa a century ago. Although both Mona Lisas have mustaches … maybe Franco thinks he’s the heir of Duchamp! We wouldn’t put it past him.

The silver lining of James Franco Presents is the opportunity for Franco to introduce viewers who like him but don’t know much about art to those “iconic artist friends” from the press release. That could be genuinely good — if an appearance from pal Marina Abramović doesn’t turn into a bizarre episode wherein the two walk around naked eating gold. Something like that may cause viewers may to give up on “Art,” the exotic, exclusive celebrity product, and turn to their fingernails instead.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

13 replies on “James Franco Plans to Explore Art Through Reality TV”

        1. Wow, same here. I’m a proofreader and copy editor, and I’ve found myself making way more mistakes lately. Very bad.

  1. James Lil-Brain Franco should be forced to a sabbatical…a decade would be better.Then I would watch”Franco on Francos comeback”…

  2. I don’t know. It might work out. Honestly he reminds me of a combination of my stoner studio friends – and it would probably blur the line between interesting and funny. I think a show about “shit James Franco likes” would actually be interesting – not in a “find out what JF likes” kind of way – but maybe he likes some interesting shit. Plus, if he does, it introduces an audience that might not otherwise pay attention (but how will they find the Ovation channel…..). But, if it turns into some kind of ‘the show is art itself’ kind of thing, then, well….good luck?, that sounds terrible.

  3. i like james franco in general but i am very skeptical about this project. i will give it a shot tho’.

  4. Purists, lighten up. Art on TV, good. Celebrity with education, good. Reality shows generally make me cringe for my species because they highlight the worst in us. Let’s watch Mr Franco’s effort and and at least reserve judgement until we see it! I’m looking forward to it.

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