John Waters Will Donate 372 Artworks To The Baltimore Museum Of Art

John Waters has promised to donate his art collection to the Baltimore Museum of Art upon the event of his death.

Nov 11, 2020By Antonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc Museum Studies, BA History & Archaeology
View of John Waters: Indecent Exposure Exhibition, photo by Mitro Hood, via Wexner Center for the Arts; Playdate, John Waters, 2006, via Phillips; John Waters, by PEN American Center, via Wikimedia Commons

American filmmaker and artist John Waters has promised to donate his collection of 372 artworks to the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) upon the event of his death. The artworks come from his personal collection and it is possible that they will also be exhibited at the BMA in 2022. According to the New York Times, the BMA will also name a rotunda and two bathrooms after the director.

The Baltimore Museum of Art could use some positive coverage after weeks of negative publicity. The museum had announced a controversial auction of three artworks by Still, Marden, and Warhol from its collection. However, it canceled the scheduled sale at the last minute. This decision came after heavy criticism and reactions from professionals and a great part of the public. Even if the sale is canceled, the museum has not left this story behind it yet. In the meantime, the news about John Waters’ collection is a much needed break for the museum.

Who is John Waters?

John Waters signing the jacket sleeve of a fan in 1990, photo by David Phenry

John Waters is a filmmaker and artist born and raised in Baltimore, US. He is known as a proponent of bad taste and ugliness as an alternative aesthetic. Waters has stated multiple times that he is against the separation between high and low art. Vulgarity, humor and provocativeness are key aspects of his work.

Waters became famous as a director of cult transgressive films during the 1970s. His films are provocative comedies intending to shock the audience with ultra-violence, gore, and bad taste in general. His first major hit was Pink Flamingos (1972), “a deliberate exercise in ultra bad taste”. However, he became known to an international audience with Hairspray (1988). The film was a big success and there was even a Broadway adaptation of it.

Today, Waters is famous as a cult cinematographer of extravagantly provocative films. Nevertheless, he is also a multifaceted artist exploring different media as a photographer, and a sculptor to create installation art.

His art is as provocative as his filmmaking. Waters is exploring themes of race, sex, gender, consumerism, and religion always with humor in his works. As an artist, he loves using retro imagery from the 1950s’ and related puns.

In 2004 there was a major retrospective exhibition of his work at the New Museum in New York. In 2018 John Waters: Indecent Exposure took place in the Baltimore Museum of Art. His exhibition Rear Projection was also on show at the Marianne Boesky Gallery and the Gagosian Gallery in 2009.

The Donation To The BMA

View of John Waters: Indecent Exposure Exhibition, photo by Mitro Hood, via Wexner Center for the Arts

The New York Times has reported that John Waters will donate his art collection to the BMA. The collection consists of 372 works by 125 artists and will end up in the museum only after the artist’s death. However, it is possible that it will be exhibited at the BMA in 2022.

Although Waters is a famous advocator of bad taste, his personal art collection seems to be quite the opposite. The trove includes photographs and works on paper by artists like Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Cy Twombly, And Warhol, Gary Simmons, and others.

It also includes works by Catherine Opie and Thomas Demand. These are especially important for the BMA which currently does not possess artworks by those artists.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter

For someone known as the ‘king of trash’, this collection seems rather bizarre. Especially if we think that in his major cult film Pink Flamingos, the protagonist ate dog feces. Waters however told the New York Times that “you have to know good taste to have good bad taste”.

“I want the works to go to the museum that first gave me the test of rebellion of art when I was 10 years old”, he also stated.

Of course, the donation includes 86 works made by Waters. This means that the BMA will become the largest repository of his art.

The announcement of the collection’s bequest came with some additional news. The museum will name a rotunda after Waters. More importantly, it will also name two bathrooms after him. With this request, the director of vulgar humor is reminding us that he is still here even if his donation includes works of ‘fine taste’.

Author Image

By Antonis ChaliakopoulosMSc Museum Studies, BA History & ArchaeologyAntonis is an archaeologist with a passion for museums and heritage and a keen interest in aesthetics and the reception of classical art. He holds an MSc in Museum Studies from the University of Glasgow and a BA in History and Archaeology from the University of Athens (NKUA) where he is currently working on his PhD.