Gucci presented the provocative grand opening of James Franco’s MOCA’s art exhibit ‘Rebel’ this Saturday in Los Angeles, alongside event supporters 7 for All Mankind, Samsung and The Chateau Marmont. In particular, the involvement of Gucci-- a name synonymous with class and good taste -- is shocking, as Franco’s material was unabashedly subversive, and many of these company’s conservative customers are not.
So just how subversive was the show, you ask? Well let me simply list some images I saw at the media-preview of the exhibition.
A film featuring a woman being ejaculated on in a group rape setting, a film featuring a naked female gang stabbing each other to death with swords, a cartoon depicting animals masturbating themselves and ejaculating on each other, a jar of corroding cattle genitalia, and a video depicting animal genital mutilation were just a few of the images on display in James Dean’s honor yesterday, curated by the famous actor who won a Golden Globe for his depiction of James Dean in the 2001 biopic.
‘Rebel,’ blatantly -- err rebelled -- against all the elite connotations that previously defined Franco’s golden image as a powerhouse celebrity, purposefully perverting his image and likeness in vulgar, defiant strokes. The star has made a sub-celebrity career as a performance artist of sorts -- a cultural DJ - who remixes his career in perplexing ways, like when he joined the cast of General Hospital as a serial killer artist, intimately named Franco. "Rebel' combined his Dean experience, with the mind of his General Hospital character, and his own musings on Hollywood in a single multi-media collage exhibition.
Additionally, 'Rebel' aimed to pay homage to Nicolas Ray’s classic film, Rebel Without a Cause by reinterpreting and recreating the dynamics of stars Natalie Wood, James Dean, Sal Mineo and director Nicolas Ray’s thorny love relationships behind the scenes. Franco commissioned collaborations with some of Modern Art's most acclaimed and controversial names including subversive sculptor Paul McCarthy, and criminally decorated filmmaker Harmony Korine.
VIDEO: JAMES FRANCO AND MOCA HEAD DISCUSS 'REBEL'
The exhibit was materially elaborate, and opulently executed – an ode to the big bucks spent by the show’s supporters. The individual films and art pieces were each contained in replicas of The Chateau Marmont’s legendary poolside bungalows, where the original cast of Rebel hung-out during shooting.
However, the tone of the exhibit made me feel like I was stranded in the psychotic maze of a serial murderer's madhouse -- as the environment incorporated circus tent colors, street graffiti, and disturbing raw sexual and murderous noises.
So why would Gucci associate their iconic label with artwork that blatantly degraded the iconic? Franco was not reverential in protecting James Dean’s image, The Chateau's, the original film’s integrity, or the corporate identity of the companies who sponsored him. So what was Gucci thinking?
Well for starters, James Franco has been Gucci’s poster boy for over a decade, and for good reasons. He is an Academy Award nominated actor, a published novelist, a blockbuster celebrity, and a Yale Ph.D. scholar. So on paper, he is the ideal celeb sponsor for the acclaimed brand.
I was a classmate of Franco’s at UCLA, and personally, I found James to be intelligent, charismatic and friendly – he certainly doesn’t appear to be a socially reckless artist by any conventional terms.
James Franco and I at MOCA's 'Rebel'
Maybe that is exactly what Franco is getting at. In our celebrity-obsessed world, we are loyal to glamor and appearance, more than preconceived notions of moral decency. It is no surprise that brands like Gucci – who are in the business of making money – simply care about the sexy packaging of their products, and no longer subscribe to outdated codes of cultural morality.
Perhaps this indicates a Lady Gaga-like trend in advertising that disregards tidy political correctness in favor of boundary-pushing statements of rebellion and defiance. Or these companies are aiming to take part in the new internet ‘viral’ based marketing, which values page view hits as the ultimate indicator of advertising success.
If nothing else, Franco’s exhibition provoked questions of how we will have societal boundaries of decency in an advertising economy that has to sell what’s provocative to survive.
'Rebel" will be on display through June 23rd at the MOCA, LA.
Image courtesy of: Copyrighted Rebel, OHWOW/MOCA, 2012
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