Funny Business

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

John Waters

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!”