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John Waters, "Beverly Hills John"

  • Art, Photography
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

A celebrated filmmaker, author and comedian, John Waters has been exhibiting his own humorous brand of conceptual art for more than 20 years. Based on ideas (usually bawdy or absurd) rather than craft, Waters’s photographs and sculptures are visual puns that mock fame, sexuality and popular culture. “Beverly Hills John” presents 42 recent works installed in a carefree, rhythmical manner. They’re all a bit on the nose, if mildly diverting.

Cancel Ansel offers a skewed look at photographer Ansel Adams’s canonical landscapes as they might appear polluted with cruise ships and residential high-rises. Waters’s “Library Science” series juxtaposes the covers of pop novels with their pornified counterparts—Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, for instance, paired with Clitty Clitty Bang Bang. Similarly, there are works such as a childlike illustration of pubic lice, and an S&M version of a stroller, complete with spiked child restraints and weatherproof fabric covered in leather-bar logos.

The exhibition centerpiece, however, is a video titled Kiddie Flamingos, a G-rated take on Pink Flamingos, Waters’s 1972 cinematic monument to bad taste. In lieu of Divine, Mink Stole and Edith Massey, Kiddie Flamingos stars a game group of costumed kids performing a table reading of the original script—in this case, heavily sanitized.

The irony, of course, is that the cleaned-up version subverts our preconceptions of a film now regarded as classic and furthermore underlines Waters’s current status as America’s favorite dirty uncle. And therein lies the rub: His mainstreaming has transformed shock into harmless parody, making his artworks amusing, but only to a degree.—Paul Laster

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