Photo by Greg Gorman.

Writer and filmmaker John Waters has a museum exhibition opening in Baltimore in November. Now he has a museum exhibition opening next year in Los Angeles as well.

“Pope of Trash” is the title of an exhibition that will open in the summer of 2023 at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, the $484 million attraction that debuted last September on Wilshire Boulevard as part of Museum Row on the city’s Miracle Mile.

Owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that awards the Oscars, it’s the largest museum in the United States devoted to the arts, sciences and artists of moviemaking.  

In the works since 2020, the “Pope of Trash” exhibition will be a retrospective of Waters’ career as a filmmaker and his impact on the industry, which has provided subject matter for some of his books and movies.

“I’m over the show business moon on this one!” Waters said in an email message today. “A long way from Baltimore premiers in church halls but couldn’t have gotten to the Academy Museum without them.”

The New York Times was the first to report that curators recently visited Waters’ home, studio and office in Baltimore and his archives at Wesleyan University, among other places, to identify artifacts that can help tell his story.

Curators also have been in contact with the Divine Archive, a California-based collection that features artifacts related to Waters muse Harris Glenn Milstead, also known as the drag performer Divine, and other actors from Waters’ movies.

According to the Times and others, curators for the “Pope of Trash” exhibition are Jenny He and Dara Jaffe, and the exhibit will be in an 11,400-square-foot space where a retrospective of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki just ended. 

The exhibition is the latest of several tributes to Waters, 76. In December, the Library of Congress added “Pink Flamingos” to the National Film Registry. In November the American Film Festival in Poland gave Waters its Indie Star Award for lifetime achievement in independent filmmaking. He appeared on the cover of Town & Country Magazine for its issue about taste, and he’s been the subject of dozens of articles and interviews pegged to the May release of his first novel, “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance.”

Since it opened last September, the Academy Museum has devoted exhibitions to luminaries such as Spike Lee and Pedro Almodovar. Other future exhibitions will explore Black cinema, “The Godfather,” and “Boyz n the Hood,” as well as “Hollywoodland,” the museum’s first permanent exhibit, chronicling the founding and founders of the Hollywood studio system.

Observers say the decision to feature Waters can be seen as an attempt to bring some of Waters’ edginess to the museum, which features artifacts such as Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz;” the extraterrestrial headpiece worn in “Alien;” the typewriter used by Joseph Stefano to write “Psycho;” and the shark from “Jaws.”  

One challenge for the curators, according to Times writer Adam Nagourney, will be figuring out how to convey some of Water’s NC-17-rated humor in a setting that’s mostly known for its G-rated fare. One idea for the exhibition space, since Waters is The Pope, is “to create the inside of a church, with a montage of Waters films spooling near the altar” and hidden buzzers on pew-like seating to give worshippers a shock when they sit down, he wrote.

Among the items that curators found in Waters’ home are the rubber leg of lamb used as a murder weapon in “Serial Mom;” the electric chair from “Female Trouble;” a prop newspaper from “Pink Flamingos;” scratch and sniff cards from “Polyester;” and a copy of Divine’s birth certificate.

“With this exhibit, the Academy is making clear that its curatorial appetite goes beyond R2-D2 and Dorothy’s ruby slippers,” Nagourney wrote. “This may not be easy. The Academy Museum has planted a flag as a family and tourist destination, which is not precisely the John Waters fan base…. [A] sign might be put at the entryway to warn the young and the squeamish.”

Although he’s made 16 films, Waters has never won an Oscar. He is a member of the Academy and attended the museum’s opening in September. Some of his fans see the exhibition as a sign that the Academy may recognize him for his body of work during its annual awards show.

The East Coast exhibition, scheduled at the Baltimore Museum of Art from Nov. 20, 2022 to April 16, 2023, will feature highlights from Waters’ personal collection of visual art, which he promised to donate to the museum when he passes away. The collection that will be donated consists of 372 works by Waters and others.

Guest curators for the BMA exhibition are photographers Catherine Opie and Jack Pierson, working with Leila Grothe, the museum’s associate curator of contemporary art. The setting will be the museum’s new Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. The exhibition follows a 2018 BMA retrospective of Waters’ work as a visual artist, called “John Waters: Indecent Exposure,” which later traveled to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.

According to the BMA, this fall’s exhibition will include approximately 90 paintings, sculptures, photographs and prints by Diane Arbus; Nan Goldin; Mike Kelley; Richard Prince; Cindy Sherman; Gary Simmons; Cy Twombly; Andy Warhol; Christopher Wool; Erwin Wurm and, in the first time the museum is exhibiting work by a non-human artist, Betsy the Chimpanzee from what is now The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

“Pink Flamingos,” the film added to the National Film Registry in December, will be released by The Criterion Collection in a special edition Blu-Ray version on June 28.

To mark Criterion’s new edition and the 50th anniversary of the film’s release on March 17, 1972, “Pink Flamingos” is being shown in some theaters around the country, starting with the “world premiere” of the Criterion version at the Provincetown International Film Festival on June 16 at 9:30 p.m. at Town Hall, with Waters scheduled to appear.

Landmark Theatres has announced screenings of “Pink Flamingos” in Denver and Los Angeles, with a restriction that no one under 18 is permitted. Other Waters movies, including “Hairspray,” “Polyester,” “Serial Mom” and “Pecker,” are showing in Palm Springs, Fresno and Beverly Hills, California.

In Baltimore, the national touring production of the “Hairspray” stage musical opens at the Hippodrome Theatre tomorrow, June 14, and runs through June 19.

Also in Baltimore, the Charles Theater at 1711 North Charles Street has added three screenings of Pink Flamingos in July. The showtimes are: July 9 at 11:30 a.m.; July 11 at 7 p.m., and July 14 at 9 p.m.

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Ed Gunts

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