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A Rebel’s Rebellious Rebellion: James Franco’s Rebel (NSFW)

A Rebel's Rebellious Rebellion: James Franco's Rebel

“Who did this???” a frantic older woman said as she came up to me, grabbing a shoulder, her eyes darting back and forth. I stared at the screen of women taking off oversized t-shirts, revealing everything from their downstairs privates to their upstairs privates, knowing in my mind that it was Harmony Korine‘s masterful addition to James Franco’s Rebel. I turned to her, blankly giving a shrug, “I’m sorry: I have no idea.” She walked out, shaking her head, me unsure if she wanted to reprimand or praise Harmony for his work: this is the theme of Rebel, MOCA’s newest show and likely to be one of its most controversial on many fronts.

The show is a long time coming, a collaboration with Franco and Jeffrey Deitch that they’d been wanting to do for years now. This past Saturday, we stopped by a quick preview of the show, which opens at Highland’s JF Chen tomorrow and closes June 23. There was only a handful of people there, the rest undoubtedly skipping the mild during the day opening for the undoubtedly raucous and insane evening opening that happened later that night. We all stood in the sunny parking lot before a building sized flyer for the show, which features a James Dean costumed James Franco going down on a dragged out Paul McCarthy.

A Rebel's Rebellious Rebellion: James Franco's Rebel--Jeffrey Deitch

Soon, the artists and curators and collaborators came out, press and others forming a semi-circle around them. Jeffrey Deitch approached in a powder pink suit and rose tinted glasses to preach about James Franco for a bit, an incredibly controversial figure in the art world, who no one seems to be able to pin down as lauded artist or artist wannabe or actor-vying-for-attention. Deitch’s words on Franco affirmed that, yes, he is working on a higher artistic plain than most and–from seeing Rebel–you can discern this for yourself.

Hearing Franco speak on the show (which you can see/hear/etc. below), you get a glimpse of the artist at work. The show is a tribute to, analyzation of, reimagining of, and exploration of and around the 1955 Hollywood classic Rebel Without A Cause and the persons involved with the film, namely James Dean. Franco’s relationship with Dean is a complicated one, a role model for him, a role for him, and a person who now lives on as a Hollywood myth to he and us all. This is what defines Rebel, the show existing as a pastiche of Hollywood fairy tales and artistic disciplines folded into the JF Chen space.

The show itself is installed after the Bungalows at the Chateau Marmont. Each exhibit space is a bungalow with a video playing, most of which are by Franco, these long 100 minute plus pieces that loop together slightly drugged out imagery surrounding the theme of the room. Bungalow 2 has 188 minutes of persons in and around the bungalow, some naked and misbehaving, while Cattle across the indoor courtyard is a two channel video of cattle being round up and tamed as the scent of livestock seems to emit from a jar of something related to the animal (feces? meat? dirt?), all in homage to Dean’s last film Giant. Death of Natalie Wood sees a four channel film of various party people and Age 13 sees Franco in drag as James Dean’s mother (Dean played by Nina Ljeti in drag, too). Age 13 is of course juxtaposed with photos of Franco in drag by Terry Richardson, which were a recycled moment but fantastic nevertheless.

Outside of Franco’s sometimes convoluted and dense work were his collaborators, who covered a huge map of styles and inspiration, most of them playing inside the realm of video. Harmony Korine’s Caput was the stand-out of the show, a restaged fight of an actor with a James Dean mask and James Franco as Sal Mineo, all through the lens of (fictional) Los Angeles girl gangs-turned-nudists. Paul and Damon McCarthy’s Highland Rebel Dabble Babble was a good dosage of shock, as it involves Paul and James along with a few supporting actors and porn stars running wild in a bungalow doing lots of unmentionable stuff, one that we will mention being a Porky Piggin’ It Paul McCarthy who releases the contents of a plastic bladder onto a nude girl in a bathtub. You get to see a lot of Paul. Other works include Galen Pehrson‘s fantastic. graphic animal animation El Gato (with voice acting by Jena Malone and Devendra Banhart), Douglas Gordon’s engulfing double video installation Henry Rebel, and Aaron Young’s Grapevine and Ghost, both of whom tackle and destroy the car culture of the film.

A Rebel's Rebellious Rebellion: James Franco's Rebel

Rebel is certainly a fascinating show–but not for the reasons you’d think it would be. As mentioned, the installation itself is a work of art, featuring nearly to scale bungalows, live plants, and even a real pool in the JF Chen space–not to mention each video piece being displayed perfectly. Whoever the person is that installed the show is the star. The second star is JF Chen, who host a fantastic space for such an edgy show. People will talk about this show for a long time in both positive and negative ways, negative mainly because of Franco being such a popular culture figure that cool art people love to hate and that non-art people hate to love: any press about the show is good press for JF Chen.

The preview itself was a perfect example of Los Angeles (and MOCA) magic as well. It was held from 11AM to 2PM, only maybe fifty people in attendance, twenty of which had to have been a part of the MOCA or Franco or McCarthy or Korine or whoever else machine. There was seemingly only one security guard who guarded one gate and it was all very exposed on Highland Ave. While Deitch and Franco took to the podium to speak, passersby walked past, most of them not even noticing what was going on. At one point, a couple stopped by, craning their necks toward Franco’s familiar voice. Upon realizing that it was in fact him, they asked the security guard if they could enter, they were declined, they took a photo, and were on their way. Riddle me this: in what other city on Earth would a situation like all this happen? The show and artists and philosophies being explained were great to hear, yes, but what was more remarkable was the fact that this art and Hollywood celebrity happening was going on without any hullaballoo and not even a single paparazzi just a few blocks South of the Hollywood and Highland tourist trap. Well done, everyone.

A Rebel's Rebellious Rebellion: James Franco's Rebel

Rebel is going to be one of the most talked about shows of the year because it is very in your face and very extremely reflexive of Hollywood. It would take at least a day for you to fully unpack and digest it all as the videos are so long; however, the beauty of the setup and the power in the punches of the collaborative works make it a standout. We can already see other press outlets and comments on the show detailing it being a sellout moment for Deitch and it being a masturbatory pedestal for Franco: not the case. We, MOCA, Franco, the ghost of James Dean, etc. are all in Hollywood: good for everyone for playing the game and using it to our advantage. We always applause when the studio system and movie business and big money holders are bent for the sake of progressive and/or interesting art and culture in Los Angeles. Transmission LA did that and Rebel carries on in the same footsteps, which is something that should be practiced in moderation, as MOCA does.

“Who did this??” the same old woman asked me again, as the Paul McCarthy video rolled footage of him figuratively pooping what appeared to be liquid peanut butter onto a sexy naked girl. She seemed to be visibly distressed, as if she just woke up from a coma in the middle of this graphic show. I, again, turned to her to say, “I have no idea.” knowing all too well who was responsible and what was going on in the piece. She shook her head, muttering to herself, moving on to the next bungalow.

My, oh, my: people just don’t understand rebels, do they?

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