Cult Film Director John Waters Donates Personal Art Collection To BMA




The cult-film director John Waters famous for his groundbreaking flicks, Pink Flamingos and Hairspray, has donated 372 works of art by 125 artists to the Baltimore Museum of Art. An exhibition curated by queer artists Catherine Opie and Jack Pierson showcases this evocative gift. Opie and Pierson have chosen highlights from Waters’ collection for the BMA’s Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, which opens today.

Artists included in the exhibition will consist of 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, Betsy the Chimpanzee, among others. In addition, the exhibition will be accompanied by a brochure featuring portraits of the artworks across Waters’ homes in Baltimore, New York City, and San Francisco.

Waters brings a particular cutting-edge articulation of American individualism to the BMA’s collection, particularly regarding queer identity and freedom of expression. Waters favours visually witty and abstract pieces and often refers to the absurdities of the art world.

The selected works capture key importance to Waters’ collecting vision, including a commitment to daring artists and artworks that exude confidence, wit, and humour.

The exhibition also highlights the deep and longstanding relationships that Waters has established with artists and how those personal engagements and connections have further defined his collecting. A publication featuring images of the artworks installed in Waters’ Baltimore, New York City, and San Francisco homes will accompany the exhibition, allowing audiences to see how Waters lives with the works on view.

“We have known John Waters for years as an auteur filmmaker, a writer, an artist, an art collector, and a friend. We are honoured to have the opportunity to curate a presentation of his collection, which so richly reflects his personality and imagination,” said co-curators Opie and Pierson. “We hope to share another aspect of John’s creative vision with audiences by offering a glimpse into what he values: artists who are unafraid to take risks, who do not compromise, and who create their art on the margins.”

The Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs is generously supported by Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff, the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore, the Henry Luce Foundation, the France-Merrick Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and The Sheridan Foundation.

John Waters, over the course of his five-decade career, has left an indelible mark on filmmaking and popular culture and pushed the boundaries of creative endeavor as a film director, writer, actor, and journalist. His visual art, which has been presented in numerous exhibitions throughout the U.S. and Europe, embraces photographs, sculptures, sound and video works, and mixed-media installations that engage with insider knowledge, celebrity culture, consumerism, sex, and identity. His manipulation and subversion of images, symbols, and low-brow references entice viewers to connect with his astute observations about society—conversations that feel ever more prescient and necessary today. Major retrospectives of Waters’ films have been presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 2014 and by the British Film Institute in 2015. Waters is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Maryland Film Festival and has been a key participant in the Provincetown International Film Festival (PIFF) since it began in 1999. Waters was honored as the first recipient of the PIFF “Filmmaker on the Edge” award in 1999. Waters was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2015, the Maryland Institute College of Arts in 2016, and the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 2020 and 2022. In 2017, he was presented the Writers Guild of America, East’s Ian McLellan Hunter Award honoring his body of work as a writer in motion pictures. In 2017, he was bestowed the rank of Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.

Top Photo: Catherine Opie, John (2013, printed 2022). Collection of John Waters © Catherine Opie. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann. Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

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