Isaac Julien’s new video installation at Victoria Miro’s Wharf Road Gallery in London, is another contemporary art world fiasco performed (in part) by no other than James Franco. Showing across seven screens suspended along the space of the gallery, this feature-length film is designed for impressiveness but, upon arrival the viewer cannot but see it as a desperate attempt to represent ‘hot topics’ such as class, exclusion and their relevance in the art world in the most simplistic terms.
The name of this multi-screened film is ‘Playtime’ and it was filmed in London, Reykjavik and Dubai. The photographic colour, distanced shots and pale light conveys an idea of luxury and coldness that is very much characteristic of that idiosyncratic point where the worlds of finance and art intertwine. Power hungry hedge-funders, an oppressed domestic maid (that, in fact, looks far too posh to be a maid), a bankrupt artist and a an art dealer (played by the unbearable James Franco) all add up to the creation of a sense of uncanniness not difficult to visually achieve.
This ‘movie’ has two big problems. Firstly, it functions as visual irony but the component of that irony disintegrates when it is no other than Hollywood/Pace London/Victoria Miro-ed (that is, ‘corporate’) James Franco the person in charge of conveying that sense of irony. In other words, the fact that this actor is telling us that the art world is all about money is slightly ironic in itself and, as we know, the only way that irony is undone is with another irony. Irony on irony equates zero and that is something that Isaac Julien did not have in mind.
Secondly, the script is too forced and pedagogical. The conflation of James Franco’s persona and the aforementioned pedagogical tone of this show comes across as unbearably pretentious. I kept thinking: who the hell these two idiots (Franco and Julien) think they are? And this feeling extends to a second video work, the twin-screen ‘Kapital’, which consists of footage from an academic conference that Julien organised at the Southbank Centre in 2012. At this point, ‘Playtime’ stops being ironic and becomes a joke. I had to laugh…sorry, guys. I am saying this because as an illustration of Marxist theory is laughable and as art….well, it is not art but ‘about’ art. James Franco should be banned from galleries and artists’ studios from now on. He is just too banal.