Photo: Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite), Courtesy John Waters/Marianne Boesky Gallery
The name John Waters is pretty much synonymous with unadulterated filth (they don’t call him the “Pope of Trash” and the “Prince of Puke” for nothing), but his project at this year’s Venice Biennale is surprisingly tame and inoffensive — unless, of course, you happen to be an artist. Waters has installed several signs red, white, and blue plywood signs that implore viewers to “study art” for various illegitimate (but often woefully accurate) reasons, including “for breeding or bounty,” “for prestige or spite,” and “for pride or power.”
According to an interview with the Baltimore Sun, he actually created the signs ten years ago after seeing a similar one IRL. “Many years ago, there was a real sign for a real art school in Baltimore on St. Paul Street below 25th Street. It said, ‘Study Art for profit or hobby,’ which is about the most politically incorrect thing you can say if you’re an artist. I loved the sign and was astounded by it. It was completely unironic, and I decided to parody it,” he told his hometown paper.
And how, you may ask, did the 71-year-old auteur best known for stunts like making a woman eat dog feces on camera land a prestigious gig like the Venice Biennale? Well, for one thing, Waters has been making visual art since the ’90s — a fun fact many people don’t know. He’s had shows at the New Museum, Marianne Boesky Gallery, and Gagosian Gallery. Oh, and he also happens to know the right people.
During a visit to Paris last year, he had coffee with French curator Christine Macel, the director of this year’s Biennale. “She told me, ‘I have a birthday present for you that I think you’re going to like,'” he told the Baltimore Sun. “She said, ‘We’re including you in the group show.’ I was just thrilled to be chosen.”