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Funny Business
Waters' Library of Science #8, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery.

Funny Business

John Waters’s new solo show of art is W’s arts and culture director’s must see for January.

Can contemporary art be funny? That’s the question posed by John Waters in his latest exhibition, 
opening January 10, 2015 (through 
February 14) at the Marianne 
Boesky Gallery in New York. Waters, the filmmaker, author, raconteur, 
and vaunted taste-unmaker, has 
been creating films since the 1960s and artworks since the ’90s; his 
new show of photographs and 
sculptures “puts the spin,” he says, 
on the art world. One piece spells 
out the words did not sell in red 
dots, a reference to the dots that 
gallerists place discreetly on sold 
paintings. The series Cancel Ansel 
“mars the beauty” of appropriated iconic Ansel Adams images, such 
as one showing a serene lake 
disrupted by a plane crash. “That’s what contemporary art’s job is—
to wreck what came before,” says Waters, whose audio guide for a
 2010 exhibition he curated at the 
Walker Art Center in Minneapolis
 was entirely in pig Latin, a comment on the opacity of artspeak. “I’m 
using photography to take away 
the tyranny of good taste, the same 
thing I do in movies.” Waters’s
 photographs are composed of images grabbed from TV screens or 
book jackets and recontextualized 
in a way that alters their original meaning. For 2014’s Library of Science #8, he paired classic novels with faux-porn counterparts. Still, 
he says, “I never use the A word—that’s for others to decide. When people say to me, ‘I’m an artist,’ I think, I’ll be the judge of that!”

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