Museum  October 10, 2018  Chandra Noyes

Baltimore Welcomes John Waters' "Indecent Exposure"

Courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art

John Waters, Divine in Ecstasy, 1992. Chromogenic print. Collection of Amy and Zachary Lehman

Courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art

John Waters, Beverly Hills John, 2012. Chromogenic print. Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Hometown hero John Waters is getting his first retrospective in Baltimore at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). Famous for his often raunchy, low-brow films that are laced with social commentary, Waters has also been making visual art since the early 90s. John Waters: Indecent Exposure highlights Waters’ unique and irrepressible sense of humor, as well as his special relationship to Baltimore, his lifelong home, and the setting of all 16 of his films.

Born in 1946 in Baltimore, Waters has had a multi-faceted career. Largely known for having written and directed cult classic and mainstream movie hits, he has gone on to success as a best-selling author, actor, visual artist, and even a 2011 Venice Biennale juror. His early films, such as 1972’s Pink Flamingos and 1974’s Female Trouble, drew censorship and protest for their explicit content. Despite original reactions, Waters and his works have since been acknowledged for their unique voice and perspective, establishing them in the canon of American cultural treasures.

Courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art

Top: John Waters, . . . And Your Family Too, 2009. Four chromogenic prints. Agnes Gund Collection, New York

Bottom: John Waters, Shoulda!, 2014. Six chromogenic prints. Rubell Family Collection, Miami

In all of his roles, Waters has glorified all things low-brow and outside of the norm, mining the depths of our societal taboos to make his audiences cringe, laugh, and question what we accept as ordinary.

His visual art is no exception, and Indecent Exposure shows Waters lovingly making fun of pop culture while simultaneously creating it. Celebrities are a recurring subject, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Justin Beiber, making them subjects of works that hold them up as icons and play with their larger-than-life images. He frequently recycles and reworks mainstream media, subverting movie clips, advertisements, and magazine covers. The show features photographs, sculptures and installations that undermine ubiquitous images of popular culture, adding Waters’ satire and social commentary on the many ways cultural divisions function in our society. Through his various platforms and in many of his works, Waters celebrates difference, individuality, and those that don’t fit into the mainstream.

John Waters, Control, 2009
Courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art

John Waters, Control, 2009. Fiberglass, silicone, urethane, acrylic, synthetic and human hair, wood, and string with fabric and faux-fur clothing. Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody

John Waters, Children Who Smoke, 2009
Courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art

John Waters, Children Who Smoke, 2009. Eight chromogenic prints. Collection of Jack Tantleff and Haley Swindal

John Waters, Campaign Button, 2004
Courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art

John Waters, Campaign Button, 2004. Latex paint, steel, plywood, Masonite, and epoxy. Private collection, New York

John Waters, Jackie Copies Divine’s Look, 2001
Courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art

John Waters, Jackie Copies Divine’s Look, 2001. Vinyl doll in fabric clothing with glass vitrine. Collection of James Mounger, New Orleans

Even as Waters becomes more and more of a cultural icon himself, his good-humored message of acceptance of difference while having a critical eye for mainstream culture remains powerful and crucial.

John Waters: Indecent Exposure is at the Baltimore Museum of Art through January 6, 2019.

Courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art

John Waters, Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite), 2007. Acrylic and urethane on wood and aluminum. Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra is managing editor for Art & Object.