The Recognitions


Michel Majerus
Matthew Marks Gallery, NY
"I create, you copy nature." Pablo Picasso, in conversation with Balthus
"In the [19]90s painting didn’t repel criticism; it absorbed it… fake painting created fake criticism." Dr. Hope Ardizzone, The Death of the Death Motif in Post-Millennial Painting
"Even the paintings looked dead…" Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
"The audience has a taste for shit. The critics have a taste for shit." James Franco, Actors Anonymous
"Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt." Joseph Beuys, Action, 26 November 1965 at the Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf

(image above, depressive neurosis 2000 Acrylic on cotton 102 1/4 x 177 inches; 260 x 450 cm)

James Franco's body was found yesterday in the toilet of a club called Cisboi, so we are at one of the Gagosian galleries tonight sitting shiv and waiting for Marina Abramović and Willem Dafoe to read excerpts from Franco's many books [James Franco: Dangerous Book Four Boys, A California Childhood, Actors Anonymous, Palo Alto: Stories] -- the "we" being Michael Lee Nirenberg, Billy Cyborg, Jared Leto, Amy Adams, Oscar Murillo, Matthew Barney, and Ellen Burstyn, most of whom were with me last night when we went for drinks at the Groucho Club, dinner at el Bulle (fish tacos, something called Bischon Frisé Ceviche, and churros y sea urchins chocolat -- where I misplaced the keys to the Ducati), dancing at a club called Boy or Toy (where I misplaced the Ducati), and then back to someone’s apartment where we hid the guns and credit cards in the Sub-Zero freezer and then finished of a very large bag of crack and candy-flipped Molly, Meow Meow, and NyQuil -- hence the not knowing exactly which Gagosian we are at.

"Shiv-a" interrupts Billy Cyborg. "We are sitting shiv-a, not shiv. You fucking moron."

"What’s the difference?" I ask.

"Franco is Jewish. You sit shiva for Jews. Not shiv."

"So, like, was he a Jew or not?"

"What. The. Fuck. Do. You. Mean."

"Well, was he a Jew or just Jew-ish?" This seemed like a pretty reasonable distinction to make.

Billy Cyborg, who had been tweeting pictures of my snout, which he had somehow managed to take last night (possibly when I was "looking for my keys" in the toilet at Toy, with a lively Portuguese exchange student who was interested in an "internship"), gets bored and asks Philip Seymour Hoffman for a morphine lollipop since he has run out of cigarettes and there was no-fucking-way-now he was getting any from me after the whole shiva thing. Sometimes he forgets he is just a plot device. Skrillex's mash-up of Bizzle's version of Pussy Riot's cover of Throbbing Gristle's "Maggot Death" is playing softly in the background. There wasn't an autopsy or coroner’s report, but Page 6, which is usually pretty reliable about these sorts of things, noted that Franco had died of autoerotic-asphyxiation, which is almost impossible to believe, since I know for a fact that he didn't even have a license let alone know how to drive.

You see how black the sky outside is? I wrote it that way.

[Editor’s Note (typewritten on yellow Post-It): “Great job so far! But did you actually read the press release? Here it is. Call me! Let’s have a drink tonight! ; )”]

[Attachment]: The exhibition includes over twenty-five paintings and multimedia installations by the late Berlin-based artist, whose promising career was cut short by a plane crash at age 35. Majerus samples from popular culture and art history, redeploying canonical styles alongside graphics borrowed from youth subcultures and the commercial mainstream. More than any artist of his time, Majerus exemplifies what art historian Daniel Birnbaum calls "painting in the expanded field," his prolific oeuvre reflecting the prepackaged newness and hybrid spaces of the Information Age. By incorporating the visual vocabularies of next-generation technologies and 1990s consumer culture, Majerus expands on the appropriation art of the 1980s through his pioneering use of digital methods of production, altering the very space of representation itself.

 Acrylic on canvas 
31 1/2 x 35 x 3/4 inches; 80 x 89 x 2 cm

We were in a rush to get to the performance, so I am stuck wearing a borrowed vintage Halston Ultra-suede tuxedo with a hand-embroidered cummerbund, with an equally vintage Powerpuff Girls t-shirt on underneath. Even though I am incredibly hung over, I still look ok. I used to care a lot about how I looked. I don’t so much anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m so handsome. I believe in taking care of myself, in a balanced diet, in a rigorous exercise routine; in the morning, if my face is a little puffy, I'll put on an ice pack while doing my stomach crunches. I can do a thousand now. I use a deep pore cleanser lotion, a water-activated gel cleanser, then a honey-almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb mint facial masque, which I leave on for ten minutes, and I always use an aftershave lotion with little or no alcohol because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm, followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion. I am also wearing fluffy, pink slippers by Steve Madden that look like little bunnies with long, floppy ears that have gotten wet and limp from the snow and have begun to droop a little. They look a little scared.

your bad taste
Enamel and silkscreen on aluminum 
155 1/2 x 256 inches; 395 x 650 cm

"Settle please." The director says. "Marina Abramović’s performance is about to start."

There are little bottles of Evian and silver glitter everywhere, and someone has turned on a fog machine. Respectfully, all of the artwork in the gallery has been covered with black velveteen drapery.

Someone has written "I smell the blood of les tricoteuses" in the guestbook with a Mandarin-Blood-Orange Crayola crayon.

ding on 
 Acrylic on cotton
 119 1/4 x 133 3/4 inches; 303 x 340 cm

The gallery is freezing, and the white Mario Bellini chairs we are sitting on have little icicles growing underneath. I can see my breath. Bjarne Melgaard (who is editing his Grindr profile) and Jerry Saltz (who is posting Billy Cyborg's tweeted photos on his Facebook page) extricate themselves from a story Hayden Panettiere is telling Greta Gerwig about losing her virginity to a half-Puerto Rican, half-Vietnamese "little person" who had "a huge one, though curiously shaped, like a pig’s tail!" who had, apparently, also "gently licked all the blood and tears away, after."

Willem Dafoe is, except for being covered in gold leaf, naked, and curled up adorably in a little ball on the floor, asleep. Marina Abramović begins reading from Franco's autobiography, in a deep, haunting voice:

"In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you’ve had.' He didn't say any more, but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I'm inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me." She stops reading, and a single glycerine tear rolls down her cheek. Haunting.

Lindsay Lohan passes me the new Coldplay CD, laid out with three giant rails of blow, spattered with blood, which is dripping from her nose. "I hear she has AIDS," Billy Cyborg whispers to me as I am about to hoover, and, when I hesitate for a second, grabs the CD and licks it, blood and all. "Just fucking with you!" he cackles.

pornography needs you 
 Acrylic on canvas 
119 1/4 x 131 1/8 inches; 303 x 333 cm

[Editor's Note (handwritten): "Nice job so far, but this part could use more 'beefing up.' Call me back. Did I do something wrong?") P.S. DID YOU READ THE PRESS RELEASE EVEN?]

Billy Cyborg has fallen asleep and is drooling in my lap. Jennifer Lawrence is telling Ethan Hawke about a recent abortion and how much she is looking forward to seeing Sharknado 2. Mira Schor, Deborah Kass, Michael Zansky, and Lena Dunham are whispering quietly in the row behind me; Vito Schnabel, Slavoj Žižek, Natalie Portman (or possibly Keira Knightley, or Keira Knightley's body double), Sasha Grey, Chloë Sevigny, and Damon McCarthy form a vague penumbra of movement and sound in the background. Dafoe, who was quietly snoring, snuffles and rolls over. Marina Abramović moves gracefully across the room to the recumbent body of Franco, who has been wrapped in 1200-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, covered in Boy Butter, honey, and oregano, and placed on a Frank Gehry Eager Beaver cardboard table.

LONG TRACKING SHOT — We move in and:

She begins, with great, dramatic effect, to read one of his early poems.

"This is about James's first experience with…love:

I reared digital moonlight
You read its clock, scrawled neon across that black
Kismetly … ubiquitously crestfallen
Thrown down to strafe your foothills
…I’ll suck the bones pretty.
Your nature perforated the abrasive organ pumps
Spray painted everything known to man,
Stream rushed through and all out into
Something whilst the crackling stare down sun snuck
Through our windows boarded up
He hit your flint face and it sparked.

 Enamel on aluminum 
98 1/2 x 49 inches; 250 x 125 cm

[SCENE DELETED] [Editor’s Note: (handwritten on Post-It in purple glitter ink): “Call me?”]

Alec Baldwin and Theodora Richards quietly get up and leave, the open door blowing silver glitter around, the DP getting apoplectic, and a swarm of production assistants with small brooms scurry around the room brushing the offending particles away. Ronan Farrow, or maybe Rooney Mara, begins to softly cry -- in the dim lights it is hard to tell. Jay-Z and Beyoncé motion for a PA to bring more little bottles of Evian and Spam-and-cucumber finger sandwiches from the back room, but there aren’t any left.

I notice that there is something that looks like thawing dog shit on my left bunny slipper.

The DP has set up the next shot, and the sound guy is ready. "Rolling... Rolling" a chorus of PAs chant in unison.

[Editor's Note: (Written in Black-Cherry-Bomb Red Lipstick on M/S): "DON’T EVER SPEAK TO ME AGAIN, YOU FUCKING MONSTER."]

Willem Dafoe, now apparently wide awake, and wearing a…diaper, is hopping around like a frog while Marina Abramović, who has finished her reading, begins lighting Yohji Yamamoto scented candles and asking the audience if anyone would "like to see a real dead body" as the house lights come up.

Tron 4 (grün Pantone 375)
 Silkscreen on canvas and wall painting 
Wall painting: 118 x 118 inches; 300 x 300 cm
Screen print: 56 x 48 inches; 142 x 122 cm

It is clearly time to leave. I slip out of the front door unnoticed. I think I have learned a lot of valuable lessons. Actual emotion washes over me in giant waves as I walk down the frozen street, my bunny slippers, which are now drenched pelts, cracking the ice under my weight. I could offer a million reasons, but they would all be false. The truth is I'm a bad person. But that's gonna change. I'm gonna change. This is the last of that sort of thing. Now I'm cleaning up and moving on. Going straight and choosing life. I’m looking forward to it already. 

I think I’m really going to miss Franco a lot. - Bradley Rubenstein

Matthew Marks Gallery, 522 W 22 Street, 526 W 22 Street, and 502 W 22 Street, New York, New York 10011.


Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.