Frances Stark to Host Panels on Mexican Drug Wars With Actor Will Ferrell and Drug Kingpin Rick Ross

The panels are in conjunction with Stark's just-opened retrospective.


Frances Stark, Push (2006).
Courtesy of the artist and the Hammer Museum.

During her just-opened retrospective at the Hammer Museum, “Uh-Oh: Frances Stark 1991-2015,” LA artist Frances Stark plans to do something a little unusual. On October 25, she will hold a screening of Will Ferrell’s film Casa de Mi Padre and will bring the actor to the stage, along with the film’s director Matt Piedmont, writer Andrew Steele, and producer Jessica Elbaum, to discuss America’s consumption of drugs and drug wars in Mexico.

The 2012 film, a Spanish-language spoof on a Hollywood Western that features Ferrell as a cowboy who is trying to save his father’s ranch during a drug war, only screened at 382 locations and received mixed reviews from critics (one critic called it an SNL skit turned into a feature film). But while it may be Ferrell’s least successful film, Stark believes it succeeds “as a work of art.”

“It was an anomaly in Hollywood, it was totally misunderstood,” Stark told artnet News. “I want to talk about it as art. It’s building a bridge to the entertainment industry, where we’re on the same page for a minute and that’s a beautiful thing.”


Frances Stark, Why should you not be able to assemble yourself and write? (2008).
Courtesy of the artist and the Hammer Museum.

Ferrell, who is a patron of the Hammer Museum, is no stranger to the art world. His wife, the actress Viveca Paulin, is an art collector and former auctioneer who oversees the Hammer’s board of directors (her collection includes works by John Baldessari and Friedrich Kunath).

Stark sees the film as “a very critical labor of love.” “It’s a black comedy that deals with the difficult subject of America’s role in the drug war,” she said. “At one point, Will’s character refers to Americans as ‘shit-eating baby monsters.’”

Over the course of her 25-year career, Stark has made a name for herself as a purveyor of weird Internet experiments. The retrospective showcases 125 drawings, paintings, and video from 1991 to the present including her cybersex Chat Roulette adventures from My Best Thing (2011).


Frances Stark, Chorus girl folding self in half (2008).
Courtesy of the artist and the Hammer Museum.

“[I] escaped into realm of private Internet conversations,” said Stark about that video, “where I could address myself as a sexualized middle-aged female who has knowledge of various things.”

In her long-windedly titled work Bobby Jesus’s Alma Mater b/w Reading the Book of David and/or Paying Attention Is Free, which is based on an ambiguous relationship with her young Hispanic muse nicknamed Bobby Jesus, Stark teaches him about contemporary art in exchange for a hip hop education—the piece shows what she has learned about thug life by including portraits of Tupac Shakur, Rick Ross, and DJ Quik, which are pasted on a checkered wall.


Frances Stark, Back side of the performance (2008).
Courtesy of the artist and the Hammer Museum.

Some critics have said Stark’s work is pop culture meets art theory, but her work can also be read as conceptual rap theory. Her hip hop oeuvre includes shots of Dr. Dre with a gun to his head, intimate shots of A$AP Rocky and a screen grab of DJ Quik’s “We Still Party” on her iPhone. “Behold Man!” (2013), which shows the rapper 50 Cent from a cut-out cover of XXL magazine, is strewn on the floor of a woman’s living room.

Stark has quoted Big Sean’s misogynistic “IDFWU” lyrics which showed last year in London, while her Instagram account raises questions about the inner workings of the art world. When asked what her latest Internet fad is (Snapchat?), Stark has an unlikely response. “I’m off the Internet,” she said. “Instagram is the only channel. I am conscious I need to be in the physical world.”

It’s the art world’s natural inclination to turn everything into a panel discussion and Stark is no different.

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Frances Stark, Oh god, I’m so embarrassed (2007).
Courtesy of the artist and the Hammer Museum.

For another panel during her show also related to the drug wars, on December 1, Stark will bring Rick Ross (not the rapper but the former LA drug kingpin) to the stage for a screening of his new documentary Freeway: Crack in the System followed by a discussion. “It’s about the consumption of cocaine and American consumers,” said Stark, “and how we feed the Mexican drug war.”

“He is a famous drug kingpin associated with very serious allegations about the CIA’s role in the crack epidemic that decimated south central,” she said about the motivation for the panel. “I am really interested in learning about his experience of becoming literate in prison and his dedication to literacy.”

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Frances Stark, Agonizing yet Blissful.j (2001).
Courtesy of the artist and the Hammer Museum.

The exhibition discussions are not all drug related, however. “I’m not in any position to sit on panel discussions to seriously discuss drug wars,” said Stark.

Stark will also speak in conversation with YouTube star Alexyss K. Tylor, who runs a channel called Vagina Power, on October 27. Stark has also invited the singer Ian F. Svenonius to talk about his VICE talk show Soft Focus on Nov. 4.

For her next project, she will turn Mozart’s The Magic Flute into “a pedagogical opera.” Funded with a budget of $120,000 that she received last month as part of the Absolut Art Award.

After that? “I’m ready for a nap,” she said.

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