Taking over the exhibition space at Sprüth Magers’s Los Angeles gallery, John Waters takes a shot at the famous and infamous among the long annals of film culture, pop culture, and celebrity, opening a show that compiles a range of works from the past ten years that drive home the artist’s bitingly satirical abilities as a foremost critique of American culture, both high and low.
Waters’ process—which the artist understands as akin to writing and editing—mirrors aspects of movie making, and his artworks function apart from his films in a conceptual field of their own. Some works stem from his productions: Alley Cat (2003), for example, highlights a one-second view of the actor Divine from Waters’ 1969 movie, Mondo Trasho, in a composition that focuses on persona, space and movement rather than the film’s narrative, while others create their own internal worlds and takes on the world around him, rather than the intricately constructed worlds he’s built for himself over the the past fifty years. In 21 Pasolini Pimples, for instance, the artist collages together a series of pimples taken from the faces of young male characters in the famed Italian directors’ films. In another body of works from the early 1990s, Waters began shows photographs shot straight from his television screen. The grainy images are pieced together into evocative photomontages composed horizontally, creating storyboard-like sequences read from left to right, yet compiled from moments of already shown content. These playful acts of appropriation and juxtaposition, which transform favorite or forgotten films into what Waters calls his “little movies,” create condensed stories or testimonies that offer narratives the original directors never intended.
Other works present a montage from numerous sources, whose original contexts become less important than their function within Waters’ new constructions. In Shoulda! (2014), the faces of five famous women, including Whitney Houston, Princess Diana and Amy Winehouse, appear next to a film title exclaiming “She Shoulda Said ‘NO’!” The work evokes, with Waters’ characteristic dark humor, the destructive sides of fame and limelight, while also tapping into the public’s insatiable fascination with celebrities and their unending stream of tragedies.
As a whole, the works on view are a wry look at Waters’s capacity as critic and fan, twisting together a broad range of cultural modes and frameworks into his own surreal and lyrical body of work.
The show closes May 1st.
– J. Shrines
John Waters: Hollywood’s Greatest Hits [Exhibition Site]