Why James Franco’s Cindy Sherman Homage at Pace Is Not Just Bad But Offensive

James Franco’s new exhibition at Pace is bad. It’s not a George W. Bush–caliber train wreck, but it’s close. The exhibition, “New Film Stills,” features 29 photographs from Franco’s series inspired by Cindy Sherman’s seminal “Untitled Film Stills” (1977–80). In each black-and-white photograph the artist-actor-scholar appears dressed (or undressed) in women’s clothes, often sporting a wig and makeup, for an effect that falls somewhere between drag and art historical dress-up. Though passable as individual photos, when taken as a conceptual experiment in appropriation, homage, and remixing, “New Film Stills” is at best comically sophomoric. At worst it’s disrespectful—to Sherman, to viewers—and sexist.

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