Two images from the Gammage Auditorium which we hung yesterday. Challenging lighting situation, and the earth toned walled wash out my colors, but I’m happy with it. It will be up until Feb. 18th
Referencing, of course, the Egyptian goddess Nut. But I love that the image emphasizes my wrinkly, saggy body. We are who we really are, and I get to be this really tall skinny dude striding across mountains. Catch me if you can.
If you are not attending a performance at the auditorium, visiting hours are on Monday afternoons.
‘I Think All I Do Is Political but I’d Never Say That!’: John Waters on Tabloids, Celebrity, and His Baltimore Museum of Art Retrospective
Now 72, John Waters, Baltimore, Maryland’s golden son, long ago earned his place as one of the greatest living multi-media satirists, having spent his career challenging conventions, prejudices, assumptions, and taste with his wit, wisdom, and joie de vivre. His retrospective, “Indecent Exposure,” which is on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art through January 6, 2019, shows the vast scope and depth of his insights into culture, politics, and humanity. It features 160 works, including mock-ups of tabloid newspapers skewering literary luminaries, vintage pornographic paperbacks, and a touching snapshot of himself with Andy Warhol in Manhattan next to a replica of a Miró he bought at the BMA during his Baltimore boyhood. He has a memoir scheduled for release next year, titled Mr. Know-it-all, but to borrow from Bethenny Frankel, Waters isn’t a “know-it-all”—he just knows it all, and he was happy to share while walking through his show one recent weekday afternoon.
Ana Finel Honigman: I decided to wear today all the items that I either bought because—or was told after—were John Waters-esque.
John Waters: When they say movies are John Waters-esque, I usually never like the movie. I know what they mean but . . . fashion is a different story. I understand. Divine would have worn that outfit.
AFH: Thank you? I got these shoes at an Alexander McQueen sample sale in London and I won a scuffle with another shopper because I said, “I need that. It’s very John Waters-esque.”
JW: Good! Good! Sample sales are vicious.
AFH: So, I love the show.
JW: Thank you.
AFH: No, thank you! It feels really appropriate for now. It feels really necessary.
JW: Some of the things take on such a different meaning, because “Have sex in a voting booth” was not made in the Trump era. And “Ed Sullivan raped me,” that was a real headline in The Enquirer. I thought that was almost funny at the time because I thought, “Oh, come on!” but now I look back on it, and I’m sure it was true. It was pre-#MeToo. What a horror that would be. Imagine having Ed Sullivan coming at you.
AFH: And we know way more about the National Enquirer now than anyone would want to know. Can you believe that we’re in a world where the Enquirer plays a part in the presidency?
JW: They’ve been around forever. I still get it. It’s not as good anymore. Those days are over. I have a bunch of real headlines in the show. “I am not gay,” by Tom Cruise, was a real headline. A bunch of the others were ones I made up. And the National Brainiac, that’s what I really wish I could edit. Imagine me being the editor of a tabloid for intellectuals. Imagining hiding outside their apartments for bathing-suit pictures of Philip Roth.
AFH: It does seem nice being a disembodied brain.
JW: But you need to do it all the time. That’s what I am. I am a storyteller. I am a writer. I think up all the art before I do it. You read them left-to-right, like a sentence. I write all my own books. It’s all about writing, or actually editing.
AFH: Do you think of yourself as a political person?
JW: Yes! I think all I do is political but I’d never say that! I would never put Trump in an art piece because that dates it, immediately. I see a lot of shows that have Trump stuff in it, and I think “meh.”
AFH: It’s not dated but it is timely. What is the story of “Have sex in a voting booth”?
JW: Someone told me that two people can go into a bathroom stall and one person steps into shopping bags, so it looks like just one person in the stall, and then they have sex. I thought, when they had the old-fashioned ones, “Why not do that in a voting booth?”
AFH: Definitely more fun than reading and re-reading and re-re-reading the propositions about allocating funds to understand who gets what and why. I’d like to know which great mind discovered sex in a voting booth. It must be fun being a great mind—like the intellectuals you pap in your National Brainiac magazine.
JW: But no one writes [about] when they get fat.
AFH: Well, presence matters. There is more lookism for intellectual rock stars than we want to admit. There is a trend for gorgeous books celebrating the fashion of great minds. David Foster Wallace’s bandanas, Susan Sontag’s turtlenecks, Simone de Beauvoir’s scarves . . . no one was chicer than Joan Didion. There is a great photo in a new book of Jacqueline Susann in a safari pantsuit with the best fluffy black poodle.
JW: But there is no one standing outside their apartments with telephoto lens, trying to [get] bathing-suit paps . . .
AFH: Do you think the days of celebrity stalking are over? We are quickly progressing into a much more empathetic, openminded, diverse culture with body-positivity and advocacy for mental-health issues. Maybe the Heat mag treatment will start looking like medieval torture devices to millennials.
JW: I don’t know about that . . . in some circles, perhaps. The tabloids can’t say “the fattest person,” but they still say “worst beach bodies.”
AFH: That’s like the brilliant British “tired and emotional.” They don’t say “blind drunk” in the British tabloids. Instead they say, “She was spotted leaving the Groucho Club looking tired and emotional.”
JW: You can sue someone [for] saying you’re drunk [or have] health issues. Those are the two where you can really sue. Carol Burnett sued when they said she was drunk, because it can hurt career prospects. It can ruin a livelihood. I remember with AIDS it was terrible. People would find out before they got their own test results. I think that happened to Tony Perkins. Someone on the hospital staff leaked for money. You forget how ruthless they were about AIDS.
AFH: Stigma and shame are the most deadly and terrible diseases. I don’t think we can say enough about the social and governmental abuses during the AIDS crisis here, in the West, or about the protests. AIDS activists created the template for protest.
JW: They were great. I say a lot about that in my new book. ACT-UP was great. And lesbians saved us. Lesbians don’t get enough credit—they weren’t dying of AIDS but they saved us. They fought the most in the second tier, with Larry Kramer, about getting the new drugs out before they were tested. They didn’t have to, but they went to war for us. Gay men should remember that, but they don’t.
AFH: Not at all! It’s really good to recognize that, although lesbians were not dying at the same rate, their contribution was instrumental. But I return to my question—whether we are moving into a culture where public shaming of celebrities is shunned.
JW: There was an interview once with a tabloid editor where he was asked, “Why do you always write about celebrities failing?” He said, “Because our readers are failing.”
AFH: Isn’t that celebrities’ purpose?
JW: Yes, but at least he was honest about it.
AFH: Well, they’re our morality tales. They’re our Greek gods and goddesses. Imagine the tabloid headlines for Hera and Zeus. They’d be endless.
JW: You don’t want them taking themselves too seriously to believe they’re actually our gods.
AFH: For the transgression themes, the Mike Kelley memorial in the show was a pure poignant moment. Why was that in the room dedicated to sexual transgression?
JW: Death and suicide are still taboos. I never think it’s an appropriate choice, unless you have medical issues, but it’s a choice he made. Well, I was a speaker at his funeral and it was his choice. It wasn’t a cry for help. He succeeded. I think he’s the only person I know who committed suicide because he was too successful. What is left to be a bad boy TKabout when you have an unlimited budget at Gagosian?
AFH: The toxicity of fame is a main theme in the show, if you count the slower suicides of celebrities whose addictions were enabled by their successes. You have Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse . . .
JW: I have “She should have said no,” which is the title of a work of women who should have said “no” for some reason. Different reasons but same thing.
AFH: But are they different? Isn’t it all just poisoned love? That work has Amy Winehouse, Whitney House, Princess Di . . .
JW: She should have said “no” to being a princess.
AFH: Sure, but we forget that she had no education. Princess Di was raised like a veal. I love today’s royals because of how much they’ve clearly grown and learned. That was Diane. She was incredible, a true saint, but we forget the tragedies before her death.
JW: The movie She Should Have Said No, where I got the title, was about teen pregnancy. It was movie from the ‘50s.
AFH: Toxic love.
JW: I have another called I Think I’m in Love, with two women screaming.
AFH: That was in the porno-themed room?
JW: It’s a part of it. When you’re in love, crazy sex has something to do with it too? Unless you never have it, and then go crazy from that.
AFH: Crazy is one consequence. What is the big bug in that room?
JW: That’s a pubic lice. Kids, these days, don’t have pubic hair. They have no idea what a crab is. Pubic lice are extinct.
AFH: I hate this shaving thing. I think people look like plucked chickens.
JW: Or adult babies. I’m not into it, at all.
AFH: What is the value of shock for you?
JW: I don’t shock to shock. Whenever people say something is John Waters-esque, it’s always because it’s shocking but I don’t just do that. I don’t think that I do. It needs to make you laugh or change how you think. Then, you can use shock. It’s easy to shock but making people laugh and think, that’s what I try to do.
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Wouldn’t it be better if we could all just float? And watch the bananas ripen?
Masculinity at it’s finest.
Threadstories is an artist based in Ireland who crafts both engrossing and occasionally humorous textile masks. The wearable works take on new characteristics in motion, which she displays on the Threadstories Instagram account.
“Traditional craft techniques are engaged in the construction of masks,” a statement says. threadstories explores the synergy between textiles, performance and movement, using photography and film to capture and frame her narratives. Her art practice is materials led with a focus on thinking through making. threadstories questions if the erosion of personal privacy in our digital age affects how we view and portray ourselves.”
See more of her work below.
Is Lisa Yuskavage a feminist? When she began exhibiting her candy-colored paintings of barely legal pinups in the early 1990s, it was a question that endlessly preoccupied critics. In a particularly strident 1994 review in Artforum, Lane Relyea described her paintings as “visual stink bombs” whose sickly sweetness masked a rotten misogynistic core. Others insisted that her work was in fact a send-up of the male gaze, a subversive tour through the minefield of women’s psychosexual development in a culture saturated with impossible bodies, from Barbie dolls to Penthouse Pets. A 2007 Washington Post headline put it bluntly: “Lisa Yuskavage: Critiquing Prurient Sexuality, or Disingenuously Peddling a Soft-Porn Aesthetic?”
All this hand-wringing seemed a little quaint as I surveyed “Babie Brood” at David Zwirner’s Nineteenth Street location. The show featured roughly ninety small paintings from 1985 to the present, the most scandalous thing about which wasn’t their sexual explicitness—much of the imagery was safely PG-13—but their style: a luminous, lowbrow Mannerism, rendered with such self-evident technical brilliance that the works’ tackiness begins to feel like an affront. Yuskavage’s fantasyland takes its cues from erotica, sure, but also the treacly sentimentality of Hallmark cards and grandma’s living room tchotchkes. Instead of debating the politics of her work, we might ask: why would a painter so skilled want to paint like this?
Representing all of Yuskavage’s major series, “Babie Brood” was essentially a retrospective—if, given the scale of the examples, a miniaturized one. The earliest pieces on view, White Light (1985) and Poetess: A Shy Anorexic (1989), depict wraithlike young women, fully clothed, glancing modestly at the ground. Here, they served as a foil. Dissatisfied with the wispy portraits of sad girls that populated her first New York solo show, in 1990, Yuskavage stopped painting for a year and then dramatically changed course. She returned with the breakthrough series “Bad Babies,” lurid depictions of doll-like adolescents set against fields of saturated color. In Study for Blonde Jerking Off (1995), a kneeling nude occupies a kelly green void, her solidly modeled torso contrasting with the eerily depthless ground. Squeeze and Relatives (both 1995) suggest the Surrealist trope of the body in pieces, with torsos and splayed thighs dissolving into the pink walls of domestic interiors.
The exhibition’s works were arranged chronologically but also, to a large extent, chromatically, with each series defined as much by Yuskavage’s treatment of light and color as by her choice of subject. “Bad Habits” paintings like Hamass and Sweetpuss (both 1996) feature figures with grotesque, exaggerated bodily proportions shrouded in misty pastel veils. Works like Nipple (1999) and Cookiepuss (1998), based on photographs from Penthouse, depict soft-focus babes emerging from red-tinged shadows, with flashes of white highlighting perky nipples and glossed lips. In the “Northview” series (2000), Yuskavage bathes serene suburban genre scenes of half-dressed women lounging indoors in the warm orange glow of a postcard sunset. A group of wild “Mise en Scenes” are like pastoral acid trips: in Given and Nel’zahs (2010), for instance, spread-legged nudes pose raunchily in a landscape dotted with picturesque peasants, the entire scene cast in shades of blinding Technicolor green.
Around 2015, Yuskavage began incorporating male nudes into her work for the first time. Most of the paintings on view in a concurrent exhibition at Zwirner’s uptown gallery, which featured eight large new canvases, depicted male-female couples. The scenes were more intimate than explicit: in Golden Couple (2018), a lithe woman in short shorts and an unbuttoned shirt faces her partner, arching her back and dangling a glass of wine in one hand; Couple in Bed (2017) offers a tightly cropped view of a postcoital pair from above, their bodies rendered in muted tones of gray-brown, dozing off in a tangle of limbs against a shock of colorful bedding. Several of these compositions had counterparts in the Chelsea show, offering the opportunity to consider the way Yuskavage approaches scale. The larger version of Home (2018), which depicts a standing couple occupying the middle ground of an airy classicizing interior, has a crisp, elegant precision. In Small Home (2018), the brushwork is looser, the space compressed, the color weird and abrasive. I admired the technical accomplishment of the former, but I wanted to keep looking at the latter.