John Waters Gives Art Collection to The Baltimore Museum Of Art in Exchange for Getting Its Bathrooms Named After Him

It’s not unusu­al for an insti­tu­tion to rec­og­nize a major benefactor’s gen­eros­i­ty by nam­ing some­thing in their hon­or — a wing, an atri­um, a library, a gym­na­si­um, a con­cert hall…

But bath­rooms?

It’s a fit­ting trib­ute for the Pope of Trash, film­mak­er John Waters.

So fit­ting that he him­self sug­gest­ed it when donat­ing 372 prints, paint­ings, and pho­tographs from his per­son­al col­lec­tion to the Bal­ti­more Muse­um Of Art.

With Har­vard, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado at Boul­der, New York City’s New Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art and famed down­town per­for­mance venue Dixon Place all boast­ing restrooms that dou­ble as tem­ples to phil­an­thropy, Waters is not the first donor to be lion­ized in latrine form…

But he is sure­ly the most famous, thanks to a career that spans six decades, includes numer­ous books and exhi­bi­tions of his pho­tog­ra­phy and sculp­tures, in addi­tion to his infa­mous cult films.

Waters got his start as an art col­lec­tor at the age of 12: he spent $2 on a Joan Miró poster in the Bal­ti­more Museum’s gift shop:

After tak­ing it home and hang­ing it on my bed­room wall at my par­ents’ house, I real­ized from the hos­tile reac­tion of my neigh­bor­hood play­mates that art could pro­voke, shock, and cause trou­ble. I became a col­lec­tor for life. It’s only fit­ting that the fruits of my 60-year search for new art that could star­tle, antag­o­nize, and infu­ri­ate even me, ends up where it all began—in my home­town muse­um.

Muse­um direc­tor Christo­pher Bed­ford calls Waters a “man of extra­or­di­nary refine­ment” as well as “a local trea­sure.”

Cura­tor Asma Naeem adds that Waters’ dona­tion, in addi­tion to being one of the largest gifts of art in recent his­to­ry, is also one of the “most per­son­al and indi­vid­u­al­ized, show­ing the true stamp of the donor’s taste, eye, and predilec­tions.”

Among the 125 artists rep­re­sent­ed are Mike Kel­ley, Cindy Sher­man, Roy Licht­en­stein, Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and Waters him­self. (The muse­um host­ed a ret­ro­spec­tive of his visu­al art two years ago.)

Waters is per­son­al­ly acquaint­ed with many of the artists in his col­lec­tion, and has a strong pref­er­ence for ear­ly work. “They were nev­er blue-chip artists,” he told The New York Times. “They became that lat­er.”

In an inter­view with the CBC’s Car­ol Off, Waters reflect­ed that he loves art that inspires out­rage:

…because I’m in on it. You final­ly learn to see dif­fer­ent­ly if you like art. And it’s a secret club. It’s like a bik­er gang where you learn a spe­cial lan­guage, you have to dress a cer­tain way. I love all the ridicu­lous elit­ism about the art world. I think it’s hilar­i­ous.

In addi­tion to the two bath­rooms in the East Lob­by, a rotun­da in the Euro­pean art gal­leries will also bear Waters’ name.

The muse­um has pledged to nev­er deac­ces­sion the works in the col­lec­tion, and Waters spec­u­lates that it’s only a mat­ter of time until a gen­der-neu­tral bath­room bear­ing his name will also be made avail­able to patrons.

“I loved going [to the BMA],” he told Bal­ti­more Fish­bowl:

When I was a kid, that was a huge world that I was turned onto. Thank God my par­ents took me.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Grow­ing Up John Waters: The Odd­ball Film­mak­er Cat­a­logues His Many For­ma­tive Rebel­lions (1993)

John Waters Designs a Wit­ty Poster for the New York Film Fes­ti­val

John Waters’ RISD Grad­u­a­tion Speech: Real Wealth is Life with­out A*Holes

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Even Steven says:

    Around 1970 I walked into the Cat’s Eye on Fleet St on a Sat­ur­day after­noon and the only oth­er cus­tomer in there was John Waters. At the time he was just a semi famous local Bal­ti­more celebri­ty. I sat down and bought him a drink and we com­menced on hav­ing a pleas­ant after­noon chat­ting about this and that The con­ver­sa­tion was live­ly but for­get­table.

    How­ev­er when I went to see Hair­spray one sub­ject came flood­ing back. We had spent some time rem­i­nisc­ing about the Bud­dy Deane Show (Bal­ti­more’s ver­sion of the more famous Amer­i­can Band­stand) and I always won­der if that was when the idea of Hair­spray came to him or if some com­ment I made cre­at­ed a char­ac­ter or sub plot.

    I’ll nev­er know since we don’t drink in the same bars any­more and real­ly I don’t want to know. I like the idea I might have giv­en him the idea of Hair­spray.

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