Baltimore Filmmaker John Waters Does His Best in Local Art Show That Highlights the Rude, Rude, Lewd and, Simply, Evil – Baltimore Sun
John Waters has something he wants out of his chest.
To be specific, the cult Baltimore filmmaker and visual artist has something he wants out of the six bare torsos depicted in “Hairball,” a 2004 artwork created by Waters that pays homage to shaggy men.
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping chest nest in ‘Hairball’ – on view through April 16 at the C. Grimaldis Gallery as part of ‘The Worst of Waters’ exhibition – is the torso in the top corner. left of the frame. It depicts a dense heart-shaped thicket that stretches almost side by side on the model.
“Self-adhesive CHEST WIG,” reads one advertisement from the mid-20th century. “For that macho look.”
Waters doesn’t remember where he found the ad. But once he saw it, he was mesmerized.
“To me, it’s a piece that reflects how body hair is political and fashionable and changes with fashion,” Waters said. “In the days of Burt Reynolds, chest hair was very, very popular. Now the young people shave everything.
“The Worst of Waters” teases gallery visitors with a big promise:
“Works never before exhibited in Baltimore,” read a press release. “The grosser, the harder to sell, the plain wrong.”
In case an inattentive reader has missed the point, the press release repeats: “the bizarre, the absurd and the poorest of tastes”.
This sets the bar high indeed.
Waters, 75, is the man who directed the 1972 film classic “Pink Flamingos” starring the late drag queen Divine. Is the artist insinuating that “The Worst of Waters” contains even more offensive views than the scene of the performer swallowing a pile of steaming dog poop?
The mind gets confused.
But if “The Worst of Waters” never quite surpasses that legendary peak, it’s not for lack of trying.
Consider, for example, “15th Station,” the first artwork viewers see upon entering the gallery. It consists of half a dozen still images of Baltimore actor George Figgs depicting a crucified Jesus Christ. A viewer standing in front of the artwork peeking through the gallery’s front door can see the Basilica of the Assumption across Charles Street.
“15th Station” is a reference to a Catholic devotional practice known as the “Way of the Cross”. Worshipers recite prayers as they move between 14 stations, each with an artwork depicting the last day of Christ’s life. The stations bear names such as “Jesus is condemned to death” or “Jesus is nailed to the cross”.
“I consider this the 15th and final station,” Waters said: “’Jesus vomited on the cross.’ It’s not really sacrilege because believe me, if you are ever crucified, you will vomit.
For all his irreverence and show-inspired weirdness, Waters is a serious visual artist, and “The Worst of Waters” is a serious spectacle.
The filmmaker creates many pieces by photographing still shots from old movies as they play on his television screen and combining them with objects he has found, such as the advertisement for the breast wig. Often, he assembles shots from different movies based on a common theme (e.g., “buttons in movies” and reconstructs them into fictional storyboards that reference social norms.)
Although Waters frequently shatters the pretensions of the art world, he is firmly ensconced in the inner circle.
Five years ago he was invited to take part in the international exhibition that forms the centerpiece of the 2017 Venice Biennale, often described as the World Art Olympiad. The following year, the Baltimore Museum of Art staged the first major retrospective of Waters’ works ever held in the filmmakers’ hometown.
His work also commands serious fees. Prices for the 26 works on display range from $4,500 for the cheeky – literally – 2009 work “Backwards Day” featuring a rear view of the late actress Jean Hill wearing an open back. $25,000 blue hospital gown for “Decorative,” a cockroach motel so gargantuan it could double as a coffee table.
But despite occasional bits referencing the filmmaker’s Catholic childhood, no one would ever mistake Waters for an altar boy.
Two portraits are variations on a theme:
“The Process” features occultist Robert de Grimston, former leader of The Process Church of the Last Judgment, a group that in the 1980s was wrongly labeled a satanic cult whose teachings influenced serial killer Charles Manson.
“Dream Lover” offers a close-up of John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban”. Lindh was captured two months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
“I’ve always been obsessed with him,” Waters said, referring to Lindh. “He was the most hated person in America since [the late atheist] Madelyn Murray O’Hair.
It is no coincidence that Lindh, like De Grimston, is surprisingly handsome.
“He’s not the lover of my dreams,” Waters said, “but he’s someone. Is it wrong to think that terrorists are beautiful?”
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But before a viewer even has time to ponder that question, the filmmaker is in pursuit of another sacred cow.
“Necro” harkens back to popular culture’s obsession with celebrities by featuring stills of actors like Joan Crawford and Macaulay Culkin lying in open coffins with their eyes closed and playing possums.
“This piece would look great in a funeral home,” Waters said. “But what funeral director would have the nerve to hang that on the wall?” Does anyone really want to live with a photo of dead movie stars? »
It’s worth pointing out that the celebrities were photographed before the film version of the decomposition process began. Although young Culkin has what appear to be boils on his face, the remaining five “corpses” are intact.
Through the phone line, you can almost hear the filmmaker shrug his shoulders.
“Well,” Waters said, “I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”
“The Worst of Waters” highlights works by filmmaker John Waters that have never been exhibited in Baltimore. Through April 16 at C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-539-1080.