John Waters has just opened his latest exhibition of artworks subverting our contemporary cultures obsession with celebrity at the Marianne Boesky gallery in New York. I was going to write something about it but after reading what Waters’ said about the exhibition to Artforum I realised that no one could really bother saying anything better about it than from the man himself.
“BECAUSE CELEBRITY IS the only obscenity left in the art world, it’s a subject I’ve had to make fun of and use. I titled this show “Beverly Hills John” because I’m in between pictures, and I don’t have a current box office profile in Hollywood. The press release image is me with the worst face-lift you could ever possibly get. I tried to imagine myself as if I’ve lost all reason. Many rich people in Beverly Hills look the same; they’re like one science fiction race. But Beverly Hills isn’t exactly known for having impeccable taste and God knows neither am I, so there’s no put-down—I’m just marveling. All the work in the show addresses Hollywood in some way. I’m dealing with my idols, show business, art business, sexual attraction, racial issues, and tabloids. Witty is always fine in the art world, but is funny acceptable too? It’s a thin line.
Jean Genet has always been one of my idols. The original headstone to his grave was stolen and never found. So I fantasized that I had stolen it and kept it hidden all these years. Of course, what actually happened was I made it for the show. Genet would like it if somebody stole his headstone and sold it, don’t you think? Betrayal was his favorite compliment.
I’ve always had this little eight-and-a-half-inch ruler that was used to locally promote the Fellini film 8 œ in Baltimore. I re-created it for “Beverly Hills John” but it’s eight and a half feet instead. I think that Fellini is being forgotten, so I wanted to exaggerate it and bring back his memory a little.
I have a work called Bill’s Stroller in this show, which is influenced by Provincetown’s Gay Family Week. Bill is my fake son. I had him made. He is an angry baby with bad hair. He was also my Christmas card one year, and people believed my fatherhood was true! The piece is a child’s stroller but with leather straps, and printed fabric with logos from all the sex bars that have vanished in New York or San Francisco. I’m trying to pay tribute to the passing of time for an outlaw minority that is now eager to be middle class.
I always make fun of things I like. Every work in this show is wishful thinking in a way. For instance, there are ten double-feature photographs called Library Science. Each piece is the original paperback cover of a classic novel with the porn knock-off edition right next door. Like “Clitty-Clitty Bang Bang.” You’re not really a classic, in my book, until there’s a porn parody.
Another work is Filim Festival, whose title spelling will always be corrected by copy editors and then printed wrong. It’s a storyboard piece supposedly put together by an illiterate programmer so the original titles are innocently altered to bad English. Like a hillbilly film festival, arty yet unpretentious. One is called “Where The Boys Are At.” The whole deal is a tribute to my mother, who hated bad English. A related piece in the show is a sculpture that is titled Thimk. In the sixties IBM had a hugely successful promotional campaign called THINK for display in offices and Mad magazine parodied it with their own THIMK campaign. I never forgot it. I redid the original desk sign that IBM produced so it read like the parody. My job is to thimk up fucked-up things. I’ve always thimking. Every morning, Monday to Friday, I have to thimk.”
As told to Paige K. Bradley via Artforum
January the 9th until February the 14th
509 W. 24th Street, New York.