This morning John Waters shook hands with a fan at the downtown Minneapolis CVS Pharmacy en route to the Walker, where he appeared in front of Claes Oldenburg’s giant French fries sculpture to shoot a short video welcome for his new exhibition, Absentee Landlord. He then proceeded to the Cargill Lounge, where he charmed a group of media folks before leading them on a preview tour of the aforementioned show — his first foray into curating.
During a post-tour Q&A, his mention of a 1990 exhibition in Los Angeles called Just Pathetic as “one of the greatest contemporary art shows ever” prompted a Google search. Many agree, it would seem; it was the first show curated by Ralph Rugoff, who was until then primarily known as an arts writer. Since then, says the Guardian UK, Rugoff has “shaken up art audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, inspiring them to engage with the kind of puzzling, cerebral work that tends to put off all but the most dedicated of contemporary art aficionados.” Not unlike Waters’ own aim with Absentee Landlord, perhaps … though he noted repeatedly throughout the tour, in so many words, that contemporary art only puts off those who refuse to give it a chance.
Spinning things out a few more degrees: Just Pathetic traveled from L.A. to the legendary American Fine Arts in New York, whose founder, “art dealer and aesthetic provocateur” Colin deLand, was the first to show Waters’ own work in photography (as he notes in an interview in the upcoming Walker magazine, Waters is pretty emphatic about not calling himself an artist).
And now that Rugoff is director of the Hayward Gallery in London, it’s hard not to wonder what Waters’ future holds. He did note during the Q&A that “you can never have too many careers”; and he has, after all, just returned to the States from the 54th Venice Biennale, where he was one of the jurors who awarded artists on June 4. Of that experience, he singled out Swedish artist Klara Lidén, whom he and the other jurors gave a special mention to for her Untitled, (Trashcan) installation — a piece he didn’t think much of until he later saw some trash cans lined up along a beach elsewhere in Venice. He and the other jurors commended her work for “its wit and rage, as well as its ability to bring the logic of public intervention into the museum space.”
Another item too amusing not to mention: Waters — a collector with his own very astute sense for art’s monetary value — recalled looking at wall labels for artworks with his dearly departed friend Divine, whom he said would note the names of the collectors and start plotting a home robbery. “That’s why those labels say ‘Private Collection’!” he explained.