Valentine’s Day is usually filled with such tepid sentiments as “Be Mine,” “Hugs & Kisses” and “I love you.” However, the only Valentine I need this V-Day is to be found in John Waters’ current exhibition Beverly Hills John at Marianne Boesky Gallery. In a three-framed photograph aptly titled Lovesick, two women, who I assume are from camp classics, scream and wail while the central image announces, “I think I’m in love.” Me too, ladies!
Just like these harried heartthrobs, I’m ready to descend into alarming amorous madness this year–not with any person–but with Waters’ exhibition, which coincidentally closes on Saturday. Why I’m already starting to froth at the mouth just thinking about the show!
Waters’ third solo exhibition with Marianne Boesky, Beverly Hills John continues Waters’ artistic predilection for appropriating images from films, raunchy pulp fiction novels and all aspects of pop culture, corrupting these references into his own unmistakable trash aesthetic. Turning his gaudy gaze at everything from films to gay culture to art and himself, Waters’ exhibition–despite his assertion that “Contemporary Art Hates You”–is a undeniably enjoyable if filthy experience.
The show’s title references a Photoshopped photograph that depicts how Waters would look if he moved to that vapid hellscape Beverly Hills and gave in to its pulled plastic surgery aesthetic. With his skin taught, eyes drawn and plumped mouth tightly pulled into a semblance of a smile, Waters would certainly look startling if not permanently startled. Even though Waters’ new look was terrifying, I couldn’t help but wonder if that would somehow be trashier. As for me, I’ve always debated between aging really badly or getting enough plastic surgery to render myself unrecognizable. But maybe this is a personal not a critical problem.
Unquestionably, the most shocking work in the Prince of Puke’s exhibition is his new film in over 10 years: a deranged reimagining of his lewd and rude Pink Flamingos. Who stars in this new Pink Flamingos you, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, might ask? Well, not Johnny Knoxville or any of Waters’ recent stars, but children. Yes, children. Apparently their parents never saw the original film or these kids are already on their way to becoming juvenile delinquents. How lucky for them!
Titled Kiddie Flamingos, the 74-minute film presents a table reading of the original Pink Flamingos script with the children wearing ghastly wigs and, of course, Divine’s garish eyebrows. Wait! Don’t call Child Protective Services just yet! Waters edited the script just a wee bit so the kids don’t reenact any chicken-fucking or, you know, imprisoning breeders in basements to sell babies to lesbian couples (instead Connie and Raymond Marble keep dolls). Apparently, John has SOME morals!
Watching a child as Edith the Egg Lady obsess over eggs, Kiddie Flamingos somehow emerges as more disturbing than the original film, furthering his filthiness.
Not only poking fun at his own and other directors’ films, Waters also mines literature for his crude creations including a faux literary tabloid rag called National Braniac exposing no-longer-gaunt Joan Didion’s ballooning weight. One of my favorite literary artworks pairs classic and classy novels with their tacky trash parodies. For example, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is combined with Clitty Clitty Bang Bang. And as you can imagine, The Grapes of Wrath is placed next to The Rape of Wrath. Somehow the ending of The Rape of Wrath can’t be as creepy than the surprise ending of the original.
With our previously discussed BSDM buggy Bill’s Stroller and his segregated water fountains for Gay Single and Gay Married in Separate But Equal, Waters also relentlessly mocks the conservative and domesticated turn in mainstream gay life in Beverly Hills John.
From his photographed collection of queer pulp fiction novels, which all feature “chickens” to Jean Genet’s stolen gravestone to Hairball, which features stills of hairy chests with a cheap “Chest Hair Wig,” Waters’ varied exhibition is above all hilarious.
Speaking of a sense of humor, Waters also includes an (in)appropriate tribute to his late friend, reveler in trash and fellow funny artist Mike Kelley. R.I.P Mike Kelley is a cat urn complete with a living room filled with miniature cat figurines and tiny picture frames of, you guessed it, cat photographs. Resembling a diorama of a cat lady’s house, you can almost smell the cat urine and the drifting excess cat hair in the air! I’m sure Kelley would have enthusiastically approved of his final feline resting place.
Even though Waters states in the Marianne Boesky press release that “celebrity is the only obscenity left in the art world,” I would disagree. Even though I hesitate to counter my own filth elder, sometimes I feel that humor may be the only obscenity left in the art world.
Have you ever seen a gallery owner laugh? I haven’t. Art critics are supposed to be bespeckled bores and curators certainly don’t crack jokes. You definitely don’t want to be seen having fun at an art opening! How gauche!
While Waters’ art may not be the subject of any critical theory, Waters has created a filth-tastic exhibition where anyone–frequent art viewer or not–can laugh their way through his lurid exhibition. Isn’t a wider, non-art audience the most shocking thing a contemporary artist can attract?