Soap at MOCA In Depth
Currently for sale in MOCA’s bookstores is Soap at MOCA In Depth, an actual Soap Opera Digest–style magazine that was financed by James Franco as part of his larger “performance art project.” It is a mildly amusing text, blending as it does several different pieces on Franco; real stories on a variety of General Hospital cast and crew members; essays by art-world cohorts Jeffrey Deitch, Kalup Linzy, and Carter; and light visual satire (see images above and below). It is equal parts performance text, soap fan collectible, and Funny or Die outtake. Sadly however, it’s still informed first and foremost by a suffocating cluelessness.
It seems that Franco and Carter will never figure out what performance art is, and why it’s different from acting and the theater. Carter, an artist I’ve only ever heard of in the Franco context, claims “the only difference between acting and performance art is their final destinations”: the movie screen and the gallery wall. Franco attempts to place his artist/serial killer character in a lineage with other “artists today who go too far,” including “that guy who had his boyfriend cut off his penis and then cooked and ate it” and “what’s her name? The French artist who does all the plastic surgery on her face.” I’ll wager we’re not in the satirical portion here.
An essay from Drake Stutesman, PhD, is shoehorned in at the end for extra gravitas. As a PhD, Ms. Stutesman at least bothers to get her definitions of acting and performance art straight. But alas, she’s a PhD in literature/film, and she ends the essay by speculating that “acting itself [could] be James Franco’s ongoing performance artwork.”
As before, it’s a whole lot of could-be’s that amount to a whole lot of nothing. We have only the distorting and diluting effects of mass media and popularity to blame for this nonsense; “performance art” has been tossed around so much the past couple of years that random people are picking up the term and using it carelessly for their own purposes. (Betsy Franco, the actor’s mother, says acting with her son was “like performance art,” when what she really meant was that it was a weird experience.) It’s similar to what happened with relational aesthetics, which got so much attention in the art world about a decade back that everyone felt obligated to drop the term, whether they grasped the concept or not. The confusion continues to this day; just last week, I had a conversation with an artist who referred to “Lari Pittman’s use of relational aesthetics.” I’m guessing this artist believed that conflating elements of painting and graphic design amounted to a “relational aesthetic.”
How ironic that performance art, which has historically been used by artists to bypass the bullshit of the art system in favor of reaching the audience directly, is currently the subject of so much layered misunderstanding and misappropriation. Here’s hoping that this airheaded vogue will pass quickly, along with the reign of Deitch at MOCA.