James Franco and CoSTUME NATIONAL’s New Wave

Guests at the opening of CoSTUME NATIONAL’s “NEW NO DARK WAVE” exhibition got a special treat on Sunday night: unable to attend the reception in person, James Franco sent over one of his ever-popular and very candid self-portrait videos to greet everyone who had turned out in support, from Marina Abramovic to Jared Leto. Abramovic, who had just been with Franco in Venice for the city’s annual film festival, returned the favor, sending him smiley iPhone self-portraits throughout the evening—it was a celebrity-artist family affair.

As the former home of Moss Gallery and Metro Pictures, CoSTUME NATIONAL’s Soho retail location has always been a creative space. It should come as no surprise to find it in its current state, with an art film by Franco playing on loop between clothing racks, and a sculpture by Daniel Firman resting against the wall (and clad in the brand’s sleek black apparel). The exhibit, which opened to the public this week, includes works by Tobias Wong, Frédéric Beigbeder, Aaron Young, James Franco and Daniel Firman. The inspiration came from from the space itself and its notorious past lives, as well as Ennio Capasa’s Fall 2012 collection for the brand, “New Wave-No Wave-Dark Wave;” its hard-edge geometry and its mix of textures rendered in black got curator Natacha Polaert thinking along the lines of memory, perception, and permutation. “It gave this almost parallel reality that was not what it appeared to be,” Polaert said.

For the exhibit, Beigbeder—an author who had never dabbled in visual art—composed a short story to be installed on the walls of CoSTUME’s Greene Street storefront. It begins, “I believe this sentence will be read by a lot of pretty girls. It gives me a terrible pressure.” Still, he was very happy to participate. “I am so glad to become a contemporary artist,” he confided to Interview. “Now I have an excuse for being so weird.” As for what he wants the audience to take away from it all? “I hope they will have a crush on me.”

Franco’s video installation, self-referentially titled James Franco’s 40 Minutes, takes after the controversial 1980 film Cruising, in which Al Pacino plays a cop gone undercover in New York’s gay leather-bar scene. His piece reimagines the 40 minutes of the film that were cut and never screened after a battle with the National Board of Review to secure an R rating. His second piece, a series of film stills inspired by Cindy Sherman, see Franco in drag, caught in the middle of an unknown narrative—definitely a far cry from his dress-up stunt with Anne Hathaway at the 2011 Oscars. “Drag is very liberating,” he proffered. “We’re all just putting on costumes and playing our parts. It’s nice to play other parts than what’s expected.”

Altogether, the pieces in the exhibition undermine expectations of appearance and perception—an idea at the heart of the CoSTUME raison d’etre. “Looking back,” Polaert reflected, “it seems that I have assembled a group of bad boys with an eye on the past and a slightly subversive view on the present.”