Soap at MOCA… discuss

In a recent LA Times interview, new MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch mentioned that James Franco would be taping a segment of the soap opera General Hospital at MOCA Pacific Design Center. According to the storyline, his character, the artist/serial killer “Franco,” scores a solo show there. Harmless enough, right? The usual Hollywood location shooting? Well, hold the phone. MOCA has decided that this taping will be an actual work of performance art, worthy of an entire press release, and that it is “an example of a project that will be part of a new series of performance projects at MOCA Pacific Design Center.”

Franco says that this project, which even has an official title (Soap at MOCA: James Franco on General Hospital), will blur “the lines between different disciplines, between life and art, between art and popular culture, and between representations of the self as both performative character and as non-performative self.” Meanwhile Deitch, who will also appear in the episode, goes so far as to say that Soap at MOCA “allows mass entertainment to be viewed through an art world filter. Franco’s artwork examines performance: it looks at the multiple levels of identity that are wound into performance; the legitimacy of some performance over others; the contextualization of performance; and how this changes perception and even the nature of performance.”

I haven’t been able to bring myself to sit through any of General Hospital in order to check out Franco’s “work,” so in all fairness, I can’t really comment on it. Who knows, maybe it really is an interesting examination of performance art. But at first glance, judging from the substance of this press release, it looks more like an embarrassing, misguided attempt at cross-breeding based on one good-looking actor’s half-digested concepts of “performativity,” most likely gleaned from a few skimmed articles and conversations with his new BFF, Marina Abramović. That MOCA is choosing to legitimize it to such an extent is really frightening; in my opinion, it starts to establish an ominous pattern, following Deitch’s lauding of Dennis Hopper and Julian Schnabel, two of the most overrated hacks of all time.

I have to wonder what other “projects” will emerge from this new “performance series.” Maybe the next one will feature Betty White “hosting” a “fundraising dinner?” One can only hope…

7 Responses to “Soap at MOCA… discuss”

  1. I see your “Soap at MOCA” and raise you a Tim Burton at LACMA.

    Why is Ann Philbin the only New York import who understands how not to flush a LA museum down the toilet?

    Seriously, I’m thinking that they’re sending these jokers here as some kind of overt cultural sabotage.

  2. Ha, there are some who would agree with you on that, Marshall. I personally think that the Tim Burton case is a different kettle of fish. I skimmed through that show when I was at MOMA this past spring. True, I’m not a huge fan of the guy, but I think that showing his work is one legitimate way to broaden a museum’s audience. MOMA was charging an extra $20 for the show, on top of their normal $20 admission fee, and yet the show was constantly packed. I also heard that they spent years developing it in response to a mandate to get more kids into their museum. I think it works without being an embarrassment.

    The difference between Burton and Franco? Burton has at least had a long career that has been art-related in some way. Franco is a young dabbler, alternately trying to get degrees in history, creative writing, and fine art, and in the case of the latter, prematurely jumping to the front of the line. Shame on Deitch for letting this dilettante launch a whole new performance series at a major museum – not a small thing at all.

    Re: Burton coming to LA. When I saw it in NY, I actually thought to myself that we should’ve gotten that show, since Burton is a product of one of our schools. I’m glad to find out that the folks at LACMA felt the same way.

  3. I can see how the Burton exhibition would make more sense in LA than at MOMA, but I still think its below the level of what I expect from LACMA, and the kind of exhibition that draws the museum’s efforts away from what should be its core mission. Then again, it can’t be any worse than King Tut, the Broad collection show or the Renoir in the 20th Century show. But I really dislike Burton’s work – he surrounds himself with yes men and is generally liked by “yes fans”. Much of what is best about Burton has been the lucky moments where someone else carries the creative weight – Paul Reubens in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Harry Selick’s direction of Nightmare Before Christmas, in particular.

    That the Burton show is the kind of show that LACMA chooses to keep on the schedule in a year where they canceled five exhibitions, including the amazing show of contemporary Japanese photography, Heavy Light (the catalog was already in the gift shop when it was canceled). So in the light of what the museum has chosen not to show, the Burton show stands out as an indication of what I perceive to be misplaced priorities, on both a leadership level and a curatorial one.

    But back to MOCA.

    I don’t think Deitch has a real appreciation for the power of the museum, or the social responsibility that comes with his position. Will he figure it out? I don’t know. I’ve tried to take a “wait and see” approach to Deitch, largely based on the idea that MOCA has nowhere to go but up. After the land art show disappeared from MOCA’s schedule (and its curator from MOCA’s staff…), I started to get pretty concerned about Deitch’s long term vision for the museum, and the Franco thing isn’t helping things.

  4. LACMA is obviously taking the Tim Burton show to bring in bodies, and bring in revenue. I read that it was MoMA’s third-highest grossing show ever (after Picasso and Monet, I believe).

    Re: Deitch. For me, Hopper/Schnabel + Franco = two strikes. I did hear however, that Philipp Kaiser is being kept on as a consultant at MOCA in order to finish curating the land art show for them. If you look on their website, the show is indeed back on their calendar for 2012.

  5. The fact that a Tim Burton show was MoMA’s 3rd highest gross is kind of depressing, but somehow not unexpected.

    See, I think the Hopper show is a good idea in principle, if you shave Schnabel off of it, it could be a good idea in execution, but with Schnabel attached, it becomes a joke, and in this case, possibly an inappropriately timed joke. That’s good to hear about Kaiser and the land art show, but it certainly isn’t a faith restoring move by MOCA.

  6. Is the media/museum relationship the art world equivalent of the military/industrial complex?,0,3465422.story

    You know when the really important art stuff happens it gets written up by non-art writers!

  7. new yorker Says:

    wasn’t this supposed to be a Deitch Projects thing before Jeff jumped ship? Would’ve made more sense in that context…

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