Director John waters he’s been collecting contemporary art for decades, and has built a treasury full of some pretty idiosyncratic works. Take, for example, karin sander‘s usage image (2010). The artist did not do anything to the canvas. She has never been to the same continent as the canvas. She just told her dealer, Federico Petzel, leave it in the backyard of his Hamptons house for one summer. Eventually the canvas grew a bit of green-black mold, and that’s the job. Petzel was worried that the mold would poison him, so he refused to take him to his house. Waters bought it immediately.
“(A) is beautiful to me. It looks like a Robert Ryman painting. And (b) it can kill you; it can ruin your house. It could disappear. Forks expensive,she said, standing in the Baltimore Museum of Art on Wednesday, looking at the decaying woven fabric she bought for a lot of money at a fancy gallery.
“It has everything I love about contemporary art. I believe that art for people is a horrible idea—I I like it elitism,” he continued. “It is a secret language. You have to dress a certain way; you have to learn a language; you have to be able to see. It’s a magic trick. And once you can, every day you walk home, nothing ever looks the same.”
The work, along with 371 others, was donated to the institution by the legendary 76-year-old filmmaker, author, performer, artist and collector in 2020. It is the museum of his hometown. Although he has homes in New York and San Francisco and spends his summers in Provincetown, Waters has never left Baltimore; if he is, as the nickname says, the Pope of Garbage, this is his Vatican City. Walking with him on a weekday in the historic port city was surreal. Waters, instantly recognizable to everyone with his pencil-thin mustache and mischievous grin, speaks in a low baritone voice, with that rare royal Maryland accent that’s slightly southern despite hailing from a state in the Union. Waters is probably the most iconic Baltimorean the city has produced since Edgar Allan Poe, and he is treated like a deity there, even if his films are about obscenities and scatologists. The new hip hotel where I was staying, Ulysses, has decor deeply influenced by the John Waters–Charm City aesthetic depicted in movies like Weeping Y Hair spray.
And if this is your Vatican City, that makes the Baltimore Museum of Art something like Waters’ Sistine Chapel. It was there, brought by his parents, where he made his first art purchase: a poster of a Joan Miró work. In 2018 the museum did a retrospective on it and now there is another kind of retrospective. On Sunday, a new show, “Upcoming Attractions: The John Waters Collection,” opens to the public, giving those who never received an invitation to his Christmas party the chance to see the unmistakable horde of John Waters-esque treasures . Of the hundreds of works, 90 were selected and curated by the artists Jack Pierson Y catalina opie at the request of Waters. He had no idea how they would be installed until he walked in on Tuesday.
“I’ve always liked the Baltimore Museum, it’s one of the first places that gave me recognition, long before it was safe to like it,” says Waters. “I have always stayed in Baltimore. My career wouldn’t have worked as well if I had left.”
I asked him how having his private collection now in the hands of a public institution made it work. He said he was especially keen that the difficult works would infuriate and harass Baltimoreans who come to the museum to see the Matisses. He leaned over to show me Mike Kelley’s surrogate child (1995), a crude collage of clippings of cats pasted on paper.
“This is my favorite Mike Kelley because so it makes people angry,” Waters said.
“He’s very Mike Kelley,” I told him.
“It is. It’s unfortunate, and he invented unfortunate,” Waters responded. But unfortunate is very important. A lot of this art is unfortunate. It’s an unfortunate move.”
We came across a framed piece of lined paper on which Cy Twombly had written his address. When an artist writes a note for logistical purposes, it’s usually not a work of art. Then again, some of the late artist’s works are just words he wrote on canvas, and his makeshift calling card certainly resembled a Twombly.
“That I love,says Waters. “And I always said I would never show it because I met him and we were dating and I said, ‘Can I…?’ This is how he wrote down his address for me ”.
To drive home the point, there’s a Twombly piece just around the corner, Five Greek poets and a philosopher, that’s just text, just the names of the poets and the philosopher. John Waters Sr. was so angry that his son had spent his hard-earned money on the movie that he made his own Twombly to show how anyone could do it, scribbling “Crazy” in an uncannily like style to the artist and then signing it.” Cy W.” He is now in the BMA collection, hanging among works by Opie and Pierson.