Coming to the Baltimore Museum of Art this fall is “Coming Attractions: The John Waters Collection,” an exhibit of art from filmmaker John Waters’ personal collection.
The exhibit will feature about 90 works of art selected from 372 works that the writer and filmmaker plans to leave to the museum upon his death. When the donation was announced in the fall of 2020, representatives promised the museum would have a preview of what’s to come while Waters was still alive, and this is it.
Scheduled to run from Nov. 20, 2022 to April 16, 2023, “Coming Attractions” is one of two Waters-related museum exhibits opening over the next year, along with “Pope of Trash,” a career retrospective at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles next summer.
While the Los Angeles show will focus on Waters’ work as a writer and filmmaker, the Baltimore exhibit will provide an insider’s look at his tastes in fine art. Although Waters’ donation to the museum includes works by himself and others, “Coming Attractions” will focus on art he has collected and displayed at his homes in Baltimore, New York City and San Francisco.
The guest curators are photographer Catherine Opie and artist Jack Pierson, both of whom have been friends with Waters for years and are represented in his collection. The exhibit is organized by Leila Grothe, the museum’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art.
Among the featured works are paintings, sculptures, photographs, and prints by Diane Arbus; Nan Goldin; Mike Kelley; Cindy Sherman; Gary Simmons; Cy Twombly; Andy Warhol; Christopher Wool and others.
According to the museum, the selected works capture elements of key importance to Waters’ collecting vision, including a commitment to daring artists and artworks that exude confidence, wit and humor. The exhibition also highlights the deep and longstanding relationships that Waters has established with artists and the ways in which those personal engagements and connections have defined his collecting.
Waters’ bequest to the museum includes works by 125 artists and helps expand its holdings related to queer identity and freedom of expression. The exhibition begins with a grouping of “touchstone” works that represent Waters’ relationships with people in the art and film worlds, such as Brigid Berlin, Colin de Land, Cookie Mueller and Warhol.
Works by Vincent Fecteau, Fischli and Weiss, Paul Lee, Doug Padgett, George Stoll and others lean heavily on craft to emulate everyday or familiar objects — a theme of the collection. The definition of painting extends beyond oil and canvas with works by Richard Artschwager; Tadashi Kawamata; Tom Sachs and Richard Tuttle, using a variety of materials. Photography also plays a key role in Waters’ collection, including works by Peter Hujar; Larry Clark; Richard Prince; Karlheinz Weinberger; Arbus; Goldin; Opie and Pierson.
The collection includes a painting by Betsy the Chimpanzee, who lived and painted at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore in the 1950s. Betsy’s artistic career came to an end when museum director Arthur Watson paired her with Spunky the Monkey, who fell on her one day and broke her leg, sending her into shock and ultimately leading to her death. This will be the first time the museum has displayed a work by a non-human.
“Coming Attractions” will be presented in the museum’s Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. A publication featuring images of the artworks installed in Waters’ homes will accompany the exhibition, showing how he lives with the works on view.
“We have both known John Waters for years as an auteur filmmaker, a writer, an artist, an art collector, and a friend. We are honored to have the opportunity to curate a presentation of his collection, which so richly reflects his personality and imagination,” Opie and Pierson said in a statement.
“Our hope is to share with audiences another aspect of John’s creative vision by offering a glimpse into what he values: artists who are unafraid to take risks, who do not compromise, and who create their art on the margins.”