John Waters to Exhibit Work at the 2017 Venice Biennale

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“Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite),” via Artsy, Courtesy John Waters/Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York

One of the greatest honors a visual artist can receive is to have his or her work shown at the Venice Biennale, an art festival that draws contributors from around the world. It’s the equivalent of a musician making it to Carnegie Hall.

One of the exhibitors at the 57th Venice Biennale, and the only one from Maryland, is an older dude who lives in North Baltimore and these days travels the country, expressing his opinions about President Trump and other topics.

He was a judge at the 2011 Biennale, but this year writer and filmmaker John Waters is one of 120 artists, living and dead, who will have work exhibited in the central show in Venice, according to the list released this month.

Viva Arte Viva is the title of the show, which is being curated by Christina Macel and will run from May 13 to Nov. 26.

The list of artists includes “deceased heavyweights like Bas Jan Ader and Franz West, living heavyweights like Kiki Smith and Olafur Eliasson, and young guns like Rachel Rose and Dawn Kasper,” notes ARTnews writer Andrew Russeth. “Here, too, is John Waters. (If you were curating a biennal, wouldn’t you want John Waters in it?)”

Artnet News said Waters, 70, was an unexpected pick for this year’s show.

“The most surprising name on the list is American cult filmmaker John Waters, who rose to fame in the 1970s for his intentionally-offensive films, but has since revealed himself as a multi-capable creative, a gatekeeper of the border between ‘good’ and ‘bad” taste,” writes Alyssa Buffenstein.

Other American artists include Charles Atlas, Sam Lewitt, Eileen Quinlan, Nancy Shaver and Michelle Stuart of New York, McArthur Binion of Chicago, Sam Gilliam of Washington D.C., Dan Miller of Oakland and 96-year-old Anna Halprin of Kentfield, Calif.

The Biennale announcement did not say what Waters will exhibit or even what medium his work will be. Waters has created photographs, paintings, videos and sculptures, and most of what he does reflects his biting sense of humor. A 2007 acrylic sign (pictured above) presumably aimed at young people shows three paintbrushes and the words, “Study Art for PRESTIGE or SPITE.”

According to Artnet News, Macel has indicated that her vision for Viva Arte Viva is that “all of the art be made with, by and for artists,” emphasizing the artist’s role in mediating contemporary society.

“In a world full of conflicts and jolts, in which humanism is being seriously jeopardized, art is the most precious part of the human being,” she said last year.

Christopher Bedford, the Dorothy Wagner Wallis director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Katy Siegel, senior programming and research curator at the BMA, are this year’s curators of the exhibit at the United States Pavilion, which will feature work by Mark Bradford.

Making the Venice roster is one of at least two prestigious honors that Waters is receiving in 2017. This Sunday, Waters will receive the Ian McLellan Hunter Award for lifetime achievement from the Writers Guild of America, East during an event at the Edison Ballroom in New York City.

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.
Ed Gunts


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