John Waters Says, “Contemporary Art Hates You …And Your Family Too”

I subscribe to Modern Painters, but just now got around to reading the September ’09 issue — despite the fabulous John Waters on the cover.

Mr. Waters need not take it personally; I just have a plethora of magazines to get through, and if they aren’t in the magazine rack in the bathroom, well, it just takes that much longer.

Such reading habits, and the fact that my family refer to the bathroom as “the library,” won’t upset Waters either. If you don’t know that, you don’t know Waters. And you certainly haven’t read the magazine feature, which discusses his contemporary art collection, including:

Over the toilet in the bathroom is a Mike Kelley piece that “really pisses people off,” but Waters asks me not to say why, since he writes about it in his book. Also in the bathroom are a funny “Queer Batman” watercolor by Mark Chamberlain and “a Brigid Berlin tit painting; she painted with her tits.”

In Baltimore, he says, “I have the Michael Jackson print by Gary Hume looking through a glory hole right in my hall, which is really scary. Plus, you can see it in the mirror, which is even worse.”

But more interesting, to me, than the art John Waters collects is the art John Waters makes.

Waters calls his art conceptual and says it’s about writing and editing. “Hardly am I Ansel Adams. Or sitting around with a pottery wheel, like in Ghost. The craft is not the issue here. The idea is. And the presentation.”

And I love the ideas and the presentation. Like this piece, part of his Rear Projection series which combines parts of four film-title stills to spell out: contemporary art hates you.

The work’s title amusing title is …And Your Family Too.

In the article, Lawrence Levi describes Waters’ work this way: “Much of his work pokes fun at the art and film worlds he inhabits, allowing him to be at once an insider and a heckler.”

And if you think Levi or I are reading into the art, here’s what the artist himself has to say about it:

The art world “is a secret club,” Waters says. “It is a language; you have to learn everything. You have to learn how to dress, you have to learn how to see it, you have to learn how to talk about it, you have to learn how to read about it. All of it is impenetrable to a newcomer, and it was to me too.”

So let the art of John Waters speak to you, your insecurity over the intimidating impenetrability of the art world — go ahead and laugh, even. But don’t forget to just open your eyes too:

In his 1998 film Pecker, when the laundromat worker played by Christina Ricci tells her photographer boyfriend, played by Edward Furlong, “I don’t understand any of that art crap,” he replies sincerely, “You could if you just open your eyes.” But as his feelings about impenetrability suggest, Waters has no problem with elitism.

PS The book mentioned — which will contain the story of a Mike Kelley artwork above the toilet that “really pisses people off” — is Role Models; it’s to be published in May, 2010.

PPS I’d just like to say, that when discussing anything John Waters, you’re bound to mention bathroom artwork that piss-es people off, as well as “glory holes,” penetration issues, and the word “pecker.”  And I loved it.

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