Image from Psycho Nacirema copyright 2013, James Franco, courtesy Pace Gallery

James Franco goes Psycho for Pace Gallery show

Actor artist makes a pretty convincing Janet Leigh in Psycho Nacirema, a large-scale London installation

Actor James Franco’s extra-curricular creative ambitions are fabled. He makes art, pens short stories and poetry and in the last half decade has studied at UCLA, Yale, Columbia and the Rhode Island School of Design. He can even fly a plane.

So far his determination to try his hand at what sounds like a positively gruelling number of different disciplines (actually we forgot curator, see our story, left) has attracted more curiosity than the outcome of said endeavours. He’s also got a lot of preconceptions to leap frog: shouldn’t artists struggle? Isn’t it a full-time calling? His fame and financial muscle gets in the way. 

It makes more than one kind of sense then, that Franco, who has plenty of top-notch experience in front of and behind the camera while being the subject of media speculation and public fascination, would be interested in probing movie voyeurism and the point where Hollywood myth overpowers the facts. 



For his London gallery debut, Psycho Nacirema, a large-scale installation with videos, at Pace Gallery, he’s recreating Psycho’s Bates Motel, under the guidance of Douglas Gordon, whose own take on Hitchcock’s classic, 24 Hour Psycho, slowing down the film to a day-long run, proved the lauded Scottish artist’s breakthrough work.

Plenty of ink has been spilled on the shower scene’s sexual overtones, Norman Bates’ peeping, the voyeurism of the camera and the audience. Franco’s adding yet another layer of sordid intrigue, interweaving his reconstruction with elements referencing a real-life hotel murder: the apparent savaging in 1921 by the highest paid silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, of a little-known aspiring starlet named Virginia Rappe. It’s recounted in typically salacious style in Kenneth Anger’s scandal-mongering book, Hollywood Babylon.

Beyond our fascination with fallen celebrities, it’s safe to say that an exploration of masculinity, sex and violence is on the cards. These themes have featured heavily in Franco’s earlier art offerings, a New York gallery debut in 2010 tapping boyish bravado and aggressive male energy, and Rebel, a collaborative installation inspired by the behind-the-scenes life of Rebel Without A Cause, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2011.



Produced and conceived by Franco, Rebel boasted work by an all-male line-up including LA legends Paul McCarthy and Ed Ruscha, Harmony Korine (a naked all-female BMX bike gang) and Gordon (Dennis Hopper’s son Henry semi-nude and covering his body with red marker pen). Franco’s own contributions included having the late young actor Brad Renfro’s name carved into his arm and a film of a bull being castrated.

Certainly, Franco’s not afraid to tackle big iconic works or put himself up for scrutiny, as the stills of him reprising Janet Leigh’s role confirm. Yet his take on Psycho wants to put us in the frame too: “We go back to the original locations and images […] and alter them so that […] the viewer's relationship with the material changes. One becomes an actor when interacting with this work.” The show runs at the Pace Gallery, 6-10 Lexington Street, London, W1F 0LB from June 6 until August 3. And if you want to know more about the mast film maker behind the original Psycho film you really should check out our book on film director Alfred Hitchcock. Along with the other books in our Masters of Cinema series it gives a well thought out introduction to one of the greats of world cinema, richly illustrated with 100 images, including film stills, set photographs, film sequences and posters.