I'm Not There

4.16.2009

By Aaron Krach

He says 'our' film because Carter considers Erased a real collaboration between Franco and himself. The men had met several times over the past couple years before embarking on this project together, and Carter talks enthusiastically about working with Franco on the set where they filmed in Paris. This is a rare moment for Carter, who isn't comfortable talking about himself, at least not with the press. He'd prefer to be one of his shape-shifting characters: multifaceted and obscure. He bristles when asked his age. He'll talk about his childhood and making art from an early age, but he doesn't want to say where he grew up. 'In Connecticut,' he finally allows, 'in a small New England town.' There's only so much he can hide, though. Carter is a successful artist with galleries and dealers in New York, London, and Paris selling his work. Much of his life is part of the public record.

Carter was originally his last name but is now officially his only name. He went to art school in Maryland and graduate school at the University of California, Davis. He lived in San Francisco for a few years and exhibited widely in the city before moving to New York. His career took off in 2005, when he was selected by curator Matthew Higgs for a small show in one of Manhattan's premier alternative spaces, White Columns. Shortly thereafter, he was invited to the prestigious Whitney Biennial in 2006.

Somewhere along the way, Franco discovered Carter's work, and the two became friends.

'I knew James liked art and had bought a painting of mine,' Carter says. 'So I sent him a long-winded, insane e-mail, outlining my idea to have him revisit every movie he's ever been in.'

Franco said yes to Carter's film, and he allowed the artist to cast his leg in rubber for a series of sculptures. The pieces are a riff on gay artist Robert Gober's most iconic work, a man's wax leg dressed in pants, a sock, and a shoe jutting out from the wall along the floor. For the premiere of Erased at Yvon Lambert Gallery in Paris last fall, Franco exhibited the sculptures of Franco's leg wearing the actor's own clothing. Carter's sculptures, which are totems of manliness and, quite literally, pieces of a movie star, were quickly snatched up by collectors.

'Carter is part of a tradition that links back to Dada and Duchamp -- of artists interested in destruction as much as creation, of making something new out of taking things apart,' says Josh Siegel, associate curator of film at MoMA, who invited Carter to show Erased at the museum.

For Carter, that means taking apart Franco's career, dicing it up into bits of dialogue and gestures. Erased is a cinematic portrait of celebrity deconstruction, which explains why watching the film can feel like watching Franco have a nervous breakdown.

'That, for me, is one of the most interesting parts of the project,' Siegel says. 'What it shows and says about acting is fascinating. James is raw material, so to speak, for Carter. But he's also the inspiration for the piece. That Franco, a relatively young actor at the beginning of his career, was willing to try something like this is very brave.'

Exactly how brave will become clear in the years to come. According to Carter, the two are already working on another film.

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