Los Angeles Plays Itself

Left: Artist Ed Moses. Right: Outside JF Chen, at the opening of “Rebel.” (All photos: Billy Farrell Agency)

SCENE: ANOTHER NIGHT IN LOS ANGELES. A converted furniture showroom on a summer evening, rented at an in-kind kind of price, is covered in advertisements for tonight’s art opening: “Rebel,” a show “conceived by” James Franco and produced by (though not hosted at) the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. It’s about 6 in the evening and Saturday night traffic coughs by on busy Highland Boulevard to and from Hollywood. While the place isn’t jammed yet, members of the General Public have crowded the sad-looking shrubbery next to the entrance, which is choked with metal barricades and velvet ropes, people dividers better built for a country carnival, and numerous men with clipped, polite speech and dark suits.

Inside, Franco and friends (Douglas Gordon, Aaron Young, Harmony Korine, etc.) have converted the showroom into a fake movie set complete with a replica of the famous Chateau Marmont’s famous sign. A wall text with prominent supporting sponsor logos explains that this is some kind of arty reimagining of Nicholas Ray’s iconic 1955 teen flick Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean and Natalie Wood, and there’s some allusion to various sexcapades that may or may not have occurred at the Chateau during rehearsals for the film. Franco played Dean once in a TNT biopic, and a porn star named James Deen makes a cameo at the opening, but the meta neither begins nor ends there. Someone (ostensibly Franco, not just the show’s coconceiver but also its elusive cynosure) has scrawled the word REBEL in red graffiti across the crisp vinyl letters; rebellious.

Just past the doors hangs a giant ink-jet replica on canvas of an Ed Ruscha painting, Rebel, 2011. The rest of the showroom is littered with fake plants and fake buildings and very real sex dolls, as well as numerous videos and an upside-down and a right-side-up Hollywood sign. Gray-haired, executive-type men in well-starched suits wander through, surveying the exhibition like they’re kicking the tires on a brand new Mercedes. Clichés manifest, clutter, recede, repeat; tautology rules. “That’s a motorcycle in a pool,” proclaims one exec, pointing to a motorcycle in a pool.

Left: Inside “Rebel.” Right: Danna Ruscha and Ed Ruscha.

Behind the building in the back parking lot–cum–reception area, telegenic and well-dressed people (possibly celebrities) mill around drinking wine and beer. There are very few “art-world” people, though Ed Moses wanders by in the company of three attractive women. Ed and Danna Ruscha arrive, followed by a black-clad Paul McCarthy with daughter Mara. They meet up quickly with Damon, Paul’s son and collaborator in Rebel Dabble Dabble, a film and installation that premiered the night before at Mara’s gallery downtown, The Box, and which is apparently also a part of the show.

Jeffrey Deitch weaves through the crowd, seemingly at ease with all parties. A young woman rushes up and has her picture taken with him. “It’s amazing how James has inspired all these people,” Deitch says. “He’s created an art project as if he were making a film project. It’s brilliant.”

Fade out, fade in, and suddenly we’re at an afterparty in a bungalow at the real Chateau Marmont. Chatting in the corner, chanteuse Becky Stark of the band Lavender Diamond tells Val Kilmer of her recent revelation about the connection of fat and fire to consciousness. “Please don’t talk about fat,” Kilmer tells her. “I’m on a radical diet these days.”

Nearby, Franco is introduced to a journalist.

“This all sort of seems Andy Kauffman–esque,” winks the scribe.

“Oh yeah. I like him . . . ” Franco begins, but their interview is interrupted by a blonde starlet with unlatched eyes and an available smile.

Left: Marisa Tomei with Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. At the Chateau Marmont.

Another dissolve, and we’re all at the Chateau Marmont theater. A girl passes out cigarettes and boxes of Cracker Jacks at the entrance, as a crowd of a hundred or so of Franco’s “close friends” gathers to watch a film that looks vaguely familiar from the exhibition. Attractive, carefree young people, including Franco, prance around on-screen. A dreamy, irresponsible sort of sound track fills the air. Words flash across the picture, over frames inset in frames, the text attempting rudimentary narrative. In the movie, a girl shows one of her breasts.

“Whoo, titties!” screams a douche-y guy sitting on a piano in the back.

“Hey dude. You probably shouldn’t be sitting on that,” says Zach Braff, who seems to have appeared out of nowhere.

“Ha ha! What? I know you!”

Braff sighs.

The crowd chain-smokes restlessly and munches on Cracker Jacks. Eventually people creep out and back down the stairs, through the lobby and to the valet, pulling finally onto Sunset Boulevard and away from what is likely, for some at least, just another typical night in LA.