To all of the fangirls flustered that James Franco had destroyed his looks by dying his hair black and growing it out, BEHOLD: James at the Brooks Brothers holiday celebration which benefited St. Jude. (Yay, St. Jude! One of my childhood friends had treatment there until she passed away a few years ago and they really were a rock for her and her family.)
There are some more pictures beyond the cut, but the real reason for this post was for an interesting article James penned for the Wall Street Journal about why his guest appearance on “General Hospital” is considered performance art. The article is a pretty interesting read, and he obviously knows the history of art (I recognize a lot of the pieces he mentions from my art history classes) and puts up a pretty good case for why his stint is performance art. But what do you guys think?
Article can be read in it’s entirety after the cut, along with all the sources and more pictures.
was recently treated to an early prototype of a dessert that Marina Abramović, the “grandmother of performance art,” created with the pastry chef Dominique Ansel. It’s a cylindrical pastry with a lychee center sprinkled over with chili powder and raw gold. I was instructed to kiss a napkin that had been printed with a square of gold powder that would transfer to my face before eating the dessert. This way the dessert would pass through a golden gateway before it was ingested. I did as told, then suggested to the chef that it needed more chili. Was this art?
I have been obsessed with performance art for over a decade—ever since the Mexican performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña came to visit my class at Cal Arts summer school. I finally took the plunge and experimented with the form myself when I signed on to appear on 20 episodes of “General Hospital” as the bad-boy artist “Franco, just Franco.” I disrupted the audience’s suspension of disbelief, because no matter how far I got into the character, I was going to be perceived as something that doesn’t belong to the incredibly stylized world of soap operas. Everyone watching would see an actor they recognized, a real person in a made-up world. In performance art, the outcome is uncertain—and this was no exception. My hope was for people to ask themselves if soap operas are really that far from entertainment that is considered critically legitimate. Whether they did was out of my hands.
As Ms. Abramović told me over our dessert tasting, performance art is all about context. “If you bake some bread in a museum space it becomes art, but if you do it at home you’re a baker.” Likewise, when I wear green makeup and fly across a rooftop in “Spider-Man 3,” I’m working as an actor, but were I to do the same thing on the subway platform, a host of possibilities would open up. Playing the Green Goblin in the subway would no longer be about creating the illusion that I am flying. It would be about inserting myself in a familiar space in such a way that it becomes stranger than fiction, along the lines of what I’m doing on “General Hospital.”
Performance art is enjoying a moment of validation from the art world establishment. Next month, the Guggenheim Museum will showcase the work of Tino Sehgal, the Berlin-based artist whose “staged situations” have involved uniformed museum guards dancing around a gallery singing, “This is so contemporary, contemporary, contemporary!” The renowned art fair Art Basel Miami dedicated evenings to performances by visual artists, including Claire Fontaine, whose work consists of a Body Opponent Bag (BOB) punch mannequin that professional fighters will beat silly. The P.S.1 museum in New York’s Queens borough is in the middle of “100 Years,” a three-week-long series chronicling the past century of performance art, so all the oldies but goodies can be studied.Minoru Niizuma/Courtesy Yoko OnoYoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ (1964)
When most Americans think of “performance art,” they probably think of its golden age in the 1970s and the early 1980s. That was the time when the artist Chris Burden was creating pieces that entailed being shot in the arm or crucified on a Volkswagen Beetle and Marina Abramović and her one-named partner Ulay were performing “Rest Energy,” a piece where they faced each other and held a taut bow with an arrow pointing at Ms. Abramović’s heart.
But performance art of this vein got its start as early as the 1950s, when art students started putting down their paintbrushes and cameras and turning to their bodies as instruments. Art critic Harold Rosenberg defined Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning as “action painters” and their canvases as records of a performance. Art was no longer to be viewed passively, but something to engage with. Hans Namuth’s 1951 film “Jackson Pollock 51” shows Pollock improvising with his painting, making marks and then responding to those marks. Clearly, the process had become part of the art. It was only a matter of time before artists would start discarding the final piece altogether, like Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” (1965), where the audience was invited to cut Ms. Ono’s clothes, or Allan Kaprow’s “Fluids” (1967), where a team constructed an enormous ice structure, only to leave it to melt.
Performance art can seem pretentious, but it can also be quite mischievous and playful. Just as Marcel Duchamp rocked the art establishment in 1917 with his found urinal called “Fountain,” performance artists of the 1960s and 1970s presented entire practices and occupations as art. In today’s version, the artist Fritz Haeg packages lawn care as art—his ongoing series “Edible Estates” consists of designing and implementing ecologically productive front lawns. As Mr. Haeg said at a talk at Columbia University last month, “Being an artist is the one profession where you can wake up and say, ‘What do I want to learn about and participate in today?’ ” What could be more fun than that?Becky Cohen; Courtesy of the artistGuillermo Gomez- Peña during a performance of his 1988 piece ‘El Border Brujo’
In her 1973 piece “Rhythm 10,” Ms. Abramović, the co-inventor of the lychee-and-gold pastry, recorded herself playing five-finger fillet, often cutting her fingers in the process. Then she played the recording back in front of a live audience and recreated the “performance” with the finger slicing put in the exact same place. Thus, the second time around may be a recreation of an act that already took place, but when she cuts herself the second time she still bleeds, and the past action is also taking place in the present tense. It’s trippy stuff.
Most performance pieces before the 1970s were not well recorded. All that remains of some works are scraps of various media. This wasn’t simply a result of oversight. Chris Burden never intended his early pieces to be filmed because he was concerned that the films would be seen as the work rather than as a record of the work. He was more interested in completing the act than getting the greatest number of people to see it. He worried that people would regard the film as the full experience when anyone who has watched a stage play on film knows, it is never the same as seeing it live.
The gulf between film and performance art has dwindled in the years since Mr. Burden crawled naked across glass. These days, contemporary performances often are staged for a camera and the record of the act becomes primary. The world of performance art has incorporated many of the materials and methods that it once shunned. Contemporary performance artists such as Matthew Barney, Paul McCarthy and Ryan Trecartin depend heavily on film and video to make their work. Mr. Barney relies on Hollywood special effects to achieve his elaborate costume and set design. And Mr. McCarthy’s ketchup-and-mayonnaise-loving elves and madmen would be hard to conceive without the precedent of Disney films.
Courtesy of the artist/Sean Kelly Gallery, NYMarina Abramović’s 2009 piece ‘The Kitchen I—Homage to Saint Therese,
When New York’s Museum of Modern Art celebrated the opening of the performance-art retrospective at its sister museum P.S.1 last month, the band Fischerspooner put on a concert in the museum’s main atrium. Casey Spooner, a singer who contains great passion under his cool exterior, stopped the show and complained that the audience wasn’t engaging with the music enough. Later it was revealed that the complaints were all part of the act and the entire piece will later be presented as a film about a fictional musician.
The folks at “General Hospital” informed me that in three days of filming we backlogged enough material for 23 episodes. There will be one more step. After all of the Franco episodes are aired, my character’s storyline will be advanced in a special episode filmed in a “legitimate” New York gallery. One more layer will be added to this already layer-heavy experiment. If all goes according to plan, it will definitely be weird. But is it art?
—James Franco is an actor who appeared in “Milk” and the “Spiderman” movies. He is currently enrolled in NYU’s MFA filmmaking program and Columbia’s MFA program for fiction writing.
I hate watermarks.