Not a book arts topic, but I’m having difficulty grappling with the work. Therefore, I will use this space to ponder. Men inserting themselves into and paying homage to the work of women artists, photographers, painters, isn’t really new. Franco is late to the party. As an avid fan of Cindy Sherman’s work, I find myself mildly interested. I’m not sure if I’m accepting of it or not yet.
Franco is well represented by a gallery and has numerous educational credentials. In earlier work, he has dissected certain cultural elements, and written essays about it for Vice magazine. I commend him for his attempt at presenting his analysis or ideas to an audience that normally wouldn’t see such things, but at the same time it makes him difficult to take seriously.
In the current bit, I viewed at Art Daily, I’m particularly struck by one phrase.
I am fully embedded in Hollywood, but these photos allow me to take a step to the side, look back, and refashion the work I do in Hollywood. I am at the same time actor, critic, artist, and character.
I don’t deny that these works may allow him to rethink his position as an actor, character, and even artist. It’s that word critic that is really bothering me here. The role of the critic is often to deconstruct and either support what has been analyzed or re-envision it as something new.
He has clearly and carefully recast himself in the role of Sherman’s observed, objectified women through the lens of the voyeur. Sherman is widely acknowledged for examining the place of women in front of the voyeuristic lens, observed by the anonymous male gaze.
However, Franco’s rendition/homage doesn’t really feel like it’s emphasizing that idea of the objectifying gaze. I’m stuck on a superficial observation of the actor donning women’s clothing. We could talk about how that one act is toying with gender roles, but it still feels very superficial to me. It lacks the feeling of a homage and feels more like a very pale or faded photocopy of Sherman’s silent criticism.
We may compare his efforts to the artist Yasumasa Morimura who is known for replicating landmarks of western painting in the medium of photography. He has even taken on images by Sherman. Morimura donned the costumes of his often feminine subjects, but he typically re-imagines the works he appropriates to include elements that point out the artifice of manipulated or idealized element. We see harsh edges of makeup, the obvious use of wigs and other costumed elements. He emphasizes the elements necessary to take on the character assigned to the actor or the idealized beauty.