Divine in Ecstasy. 1992. Collection of Amy and Zachary Lehman. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery
Divine in Ecstasy. 1992. Collection of Amy and Zachary Lehman. © John Waters, Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery

John Waters: Indecent Exposure examines the artist’s influential career and experimentation across media

BALTIMORE, MD (March 21, 2018)—From October 7, 2018, to January 6, 2019, The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) presents John Waters: Indecent Exposure, the first major retrospective of the artist’s visual art in his hometown of Baltimore. Through more than 160 photographs, sculptures, soundworks, and video made since the early 1990s, Waters’ renegade humor subverts mainstream expectations of representation and reveals the ways that mass media and celebrity embody cultural attitudes, moral codes, and shared tragedy. Waters freely manipulates images of less-than sacred, low-brow references—Elizabeth Taylor’s hairstyles, Justin Bieber’s preening poses, his own self-portraits, and pictures of individuals brought into the limelight through his films—to entice viewers to connect to his astute and provocative observations about society.

“We are thrilled to organize the first retrospective of John Waters work in his hometown,” said BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director Chris Bedford. “The wide-ranging influences and products of his work speak succinctly to popular culture within the context of the history of art. I’m excited for visitors to experience this exhibition and find frequent homages to Baltimore across his works.”

Waters’ first artwork, Divine in Ecstasy (1992), immortalized the peak of his favorite muse’s rapture by using a still camera to capture a split-second’s worth of movie footage on a television monitor. Since then, he has transposed some of his most provocative themes and motifs concerning race, sex, gender, consumerism, and religion into photographs, montages, and sculpture. By bringing “bad taste” to the walls of galleries and museums, Waters tugs at the curtain of exclusivity that can divide art from human experience. Children Who Smoke (2009) embraces taboos with an image of eight child film stars of the 1930s and 40s with lit cigarettes and Congratulations (2014) pokes fun at the contemporary art world’s jargon of success with a riff on the red dots once used in galleries to indicate a sale. Waters’ Campaign Button (2004) encourages amorous encounters as an alternate use for voting booths. These works and others present a call to viewers to overthrow hierarchy and interrogate the value systems in which we all participate.

John Waters: Indecent Exposure is organized around themes of popular culture, the movie industry, the contemporary art world, the artist’s childhood and identity, and the transgressive power of images. Among the exhibition’s highlights are a photographic installation in which Waters explores the auras and absurdities of famous films, their directors, and actors; a suite of photographs and sculpture that use humor to humanize dark moments in history from the Kennedy assassination to 9/11; and Kiddie Flamingos, a 2014 video work of children reading a G-rated version of Pink Flamingos (Waters’ notorious 1972 celebration of all  things outsider and extreme). Other bodies of work explored in the exhibition include Waters’ renegade versions of abstractions, still lives, and readymades and iconic cult film images that constitute a photographic reunion of Waters’ Dreamland Productions actors and crew. The exhibition concludes with a selection of ephemera and some of Waters’ earliest films presented in a peep-show format.

“Waters is highly admired for his career as a filmmaker, but is less known for his work as an artist,” said BMA Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman. “It has been incredibly rewarding to develop an exhibition that highlights his influence as an artist, and participant and critic of contemporary culture. His work has had a huge impact on an evolving and more encompassing idea of American identity, and provides an important perspective on how we assert ourselves as individuals contributing to a community that embraces difference.”

About the Baltimore Museum of Art

Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds. The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture. The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.

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