Critics’ Picks

John Waters, Beverly Hills John, 2012, C-print, 36 1/2 x 26 1/2".

John Waters, Beverly Hills John, 2012, C-print, 36 1/2 x 26 1/2".

New York

John Waters

Marianne Boesky Gallery | 509 West 24th Street
509 West 24th Street
January 9–February 14, 2015

“What do you call a feminine top?” John Waters posed to a captive audience one summer night on New York’s very own gay Xanadu, Fire Island. Smirking, he replied, “Why, a blouse, of course.” Having both written and directed such cult-classic movies as A Dirty Shame, Pink Flamingos, and Hairspray, the “Prince of Puke” has made a name for himself skewering contemporary culture and celebrating society’s misfits while gleefully offending conservative tastes along the way. And for his current show, “Beverly Hills John,” Waters once again turns his caustic eye toward the twin, rock-hard pillars upon which celebrity rests: mortality and eroticism.

Waters’s Fellini’s 8 1/2, 2014—an oversized wooden ruler with the titular text pressed into it in bold black letters—is an empirical bon mot to the Italian director’s, well, achievements. Meanwhile, in the black-and-white photostrip, Shoulda!, 2014, a lineup of five fatal femmes (Whitney Houston and Anna Nicole Smith among them) follow a film-still caption that proclaims, “SHE SHOULD’A SAID ‘NO’!,” a not-so-subtle meditation upon the darker side of fame. Elsewhere, three large-scale color headshots depict pop-culture icons post cosmetic surgery (Beibs, Lassie, and Waters himself). With plumped lips and augmented cheekbones that just scream Jocelyn Wildenstein, Waters’s digitally altered self-portrait, Beverly Hills John, 2012, mordantly places under the knife the entertainment industry’s obsession with aging and appearances.

But not all of Waters’s works are so playfully tongue in cheek. Among them, the black-and-white photograph Separate But Equal, 2014, appropriates Elliot Erwitt’s iconic image Segregated Water Fountains, North Carolina, 1950, depicting the racial prejudices that imbued the Jim Crow South. By swapping the terms “Whites” and “Colored” for “Gay Married” and “Gay Single,” Water emphasizes the growing alienation segments of the LGBT community feel from more assimilated members, which is anything but a one-liner.