Marianne Boesky Gallery
509 West 24th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through February 14, free, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
King of Filth John Waters gives Hollywood celebrity culture, and himself, an extremely funny and clever facelift in his latest exhibit at Marianne Boesky in Chelsea. “Beverly Hills John” consists of photography, collage, sculpture, installation, and a new full-length film, his first as writer and director since 2004’s A Dirty Shame. (In the meantime, the Baltimore native has been performing his one-man show, This Filthy World, and writing such books as Role Models and Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America.) “Separate But Equal” is a black-and-white C-print of a black man drinking from a water fountain labeled “Gay Single,” which is connected to a sink labeled “Gay Married.” In “Library Science,” Waters offers adult takes on classic literature covers, turning, for example, Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang into Dion Dermot’s Clitty Clitty Bang Bang and Erskine Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre into Channy Wadd’s God’s Little Faker. Waters pays homage to innovative multimedia artist Mike Kelley, who committed suicide in 2012, with “R.I.P. Mike Kelley,” a miniature sculpture of a cozy living room with a fireplace, comfy chair, and cat urn. The Death character from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal hovers over a deplaning John F. Kennedy and Jackie O in “Grim Reaper.” In “Brainiac,” Waters reconstructs a tabloid magazine cover with such headlines as “Joan Didion Hits 250 Pounds!” and “Nude Photos of W. H. Auden Found!” Waters alternates pictures of a flustered Curly from the Three Stooges with shots of rectal exams in “Probe.” (In an odd coincidence, a man named John Waters served as assistant director on the 1933 film Broadway to Hollywood, in which Moe and Curly make cameos as clowns.) “Stolen Jean Genet” is a re-creation of the headstone of French writer and activist Jean Genet, which was actually stolen and is still missing. And in “Mom and Dad,” Waters repurposes stills from William Beaudine’s 1945 film Mom and Dad, which features a notorious sexual hygiene movie used as a terrifying teaching tool.
The centerpiece of the show is the seventy-four-minute Kiddie Flamingos, in which Waters films children doing a table reading of a somewhat, er, watered-down version of the script of Waters’s breakthrough 1972 trailer-park cult black comedy, Pink Flamingos, about Babs Johnson (Divine), her son, Crackers (Danny Mills), her mother, Edie (Edith Massey), their friend Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce), and their battle with the mean and nasty Marbles (David Lochary and Mink Stole). The children, in various stages of garish makeup, including one boy with a pencil-thin mustache playing the narrator (Waters), don’t always understand what they’re saying, but it’s a riot to watch them tell this hysterical tale of oddballs who have rather extreme eccentricities. Waters, of course, is not above making fun of himself and his own eccentricities as well. The title piece is a creepy self-portrait that depicts him as a victim of plastic surgery gone terribly wrong, in between photos of fellow knife casualties Justin Bieber and Lassie. Sitting empty in the gallery is “Bill’s Stroller,” emblazoned with the names of strip clubs and boasting a spiked leather harness meant for Waters’s fake baby, Bill. (He really does have an angry doll-child he calls Bill who he keeps at home.) And in “Self Portrait #5,” Waters casts himself as a dogcatcher, smiling devilishly at the viewer and holding a carrier with a cute little puppy inside. It’s a wonderfully sly image, emblematic of all of us who treasure Waters’s ongoing counterculture shenanigans, willing to be carried by him wherever he may go as he continues to fight the establishment in his unique, wickedly subversive ways.