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For more than 50 years, John Waters has served as a consummate figure in the film and art industries. His work began with cult films in the 1970s, before he branched into mainstream movies in the 1980s, and finally fine art in the 1990s. Waters’ photo-based artwork and installations are often associated with humorous interpretations that highlight and ridicule and quirky stereotypes seen in the movie business. A repetitive theme is the appropriation of screenshots from other director’s films repurposed into storyboards that alter the intentional narrative of the screenplay.
Waters’ current exhibition “Beverly Hills John” at Marianne Boesky gallery (on view through February 14) presents a selection of new works that stray from some of his politically-charged motives in favor of addressing more personal and autobiographical issues involving the success and longevity of his career. As the artist puts it, “Since I haven’t made a film in 10 years, must I give my entire life’s work a facelift? If so, should I worry that reinvention invites self-parody? Now that celebrity is the only obscenity left in the art world, where do I fit in? Hopefully ‘Beverly Hills John’ will answer those questions by focusing on my unresolved childhood fame issues, my fear of false glamour and nouveau-riche comfort, my ongoing sexual attractions and nature’s sometimes unfair punishment of such urges, and the possible horror and risk of a ‘career-icide’ with dignity.”
Central to the exhibition is a new 74-minute video, Kiddie Flamingos. The video is a parody of Waters’ 1972 film Pink Flamingos performed in a table read by an all-kid cast. Waters’ intent for the film was to create a desexualized version of the original footage that transforms innocence into a perverse and upbeat spectacle. The piece also serves as a testament to his distaste for censorship. “If I censor my own videos like my enemies did in the past, am I transposing shock value into a new form of innocent surprise or crossing over into sell-out territory?” he asked.
On the whole, the exhibition calls attention to Waters’ opposition to the current hierarchical state of the art world as well as the (null) moral state it is built on. He offers, “Hopefully my photographic out-of-context storyboards of cinematic distress can inspire everybody to be a ruthless editor with delusions of control.” Highlights of the exhibition include Self-Portrait #5, where Waters depicts himself as a menacing dogcatcher, and In Library Science 1-10, a marriage of literature with related analogous pornography.
On the whole, “Beverly Hills John” is a dark, yet witty tribute to the seedy side of artistic success as well as a statement to a lifelong career that has somehow left Waters shockingly un-jaded.