This Summer during my trip to Provincetown, MA I was reintroduced to the cult of personality/perversity that is John Waters. On the tail of the Provincetown Film Festival, in a movie screening the famed director was featured in an advertisement to support the Provincetown Film Society. He said neatly, “please support the Provincetown Film Association or I’ll kill you.” The end.
Later during the trip I happened upon a fantastic boutique, with only the best clothes for hip men, that had stacks of his fairly recent memoir, “Role Models”. In the spirit of serendipity, and the fact that he vacations in Provincetown every year, I bought a signed copy of the book.
While I am not a connoisseur of his films, I loved his 1998 film Pecker (if you haven’t seen this and have any gripes about the art world or fine art photography in general, please view, it’s wonderful). I also appreciate all he esteems – the self-proclaimed prince of puke is an utter pervert and lover of lunacy. He’s the definition of lifting boundaries of taste and non-taste, and he has seeped into all corners of the cultural world to bring his message of filth and awkwardness. There has never been a moment when his material did not bring me to an out loud laugh, and for that I thank him.
The book was the perfect summer read – fast and hilarious. I skipped the chapter about “Outsider Porn” – the first three paragraphs were plenty for me. Some highlights of the rest of the book include an essay about his thirty plus year friendship with Leslie Van Houten (an ex-Manson girl that he has advocated for her release from jail for years), as well as the chapter on Commes Des Garçons designer Rei Kawakkubo, and lastly learning that his mustache is not real! It’s courtesy of Maybelline “very black” brown pencil. Ha!
Most delightful to learn was that he is an avid art collector, and has guest curated at the Walker Center! Another slice of information I was late to the party for, but all the more excited to learn. In his chapter titled “Roommates” Waters describes the art in his homes as roommates, having particular personality traits that he adores and seeks out in all of his homes (Provincetown, Baltimore, San Francisco, New York – lucky man).
Unlike the obtuse gesture of an abstract piece of art, that sits quietly and unobtrusively (e.g. Agnes Martin, Anish Kapoor), he seeks out work that will “enrage people” in his house. Works, or roommates, that frustrate, celebrate the mess of daily life, piss you off with their mediocrity, and remind you of how much more intelligent they are than you. On a sculpture roommate by Paul Lee he writes:
“This incredibly successful artwork is purposely homely, haughtily failed, and passively confrontational. Just like all my roommates – ready to fight.”
In the essay he also deciphers Cy Twombly’s scribbles from the five drawings that he owns to aplomb. An excerpt of Waters’ translation of Twombly’s writing:
“Okay, I’ve got to get organized, make a list of my gripes, pay back the fuckers who do the things at work that get on my nerves. No cross that out, let’s start again. I’ve got to be calm or no one will listen…”
Funny, and serious. His interpretations and advocacy of Twombley’s works have even landed him a spot as a lecturer on the art of Twombly at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
So like the book title purports, these artists and artworks are his role models – he is in fact making art work and showing at major galleries including Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York. Bravo.
As for the show he curated in 2010 at the Walker Center titled “Absentee Landlord” – I would have loved to have been. In viewing the installation images, it was hilarious and gut wrenching at the same time.
Besides including the artists he adores from his own collection, not to mention his own artwork, he had some great fun with the basic notions of installation and exhibition. He created a mock video screening room where the gallery goers would open a black curtain only to walk into a wall. The actual video screening room with black curtain was just ahead.
There was a flower sculpture that if the viewer came to close to it, it would spritz water on them. And most exquisite was the John Waters Blue Plate Special that was served in the museum’s cafeteria. When ordered, no food was served instead hungry customers received a limited-edition photograph of meat gristle, sprouting potato eyes and the cutoff ends of vegetables — and an audio tour of the exhibition spoken by Mr. Waters in pig Latin. “I know people get really upset by impenetrable art-speak, and I wanted to comment on that.”
I hope John Water’s goes on for many years making more spectacles like this whether in his movies, in museums, galleries or books – telling stories about how the hideous things in life can be beautiful, thank you for that Mr. Waters!!