John Waters has broken into one of the most exclusive clubs in the world — the international art scene. He's been taught the secret handshake. He's mastered all the code words.
Now the Baltimore filmmaker and self-described "Filth Elder" will receive one of the highest accolades the art world has to offer when he exhibits his sculptures in the international group show that serves as the centerpiece of the 2017 Venice Biennale.
And what will be his message to the masses? Waters will instruct his viewers, with a perfectly straight face, to "Study Art."
The 71-year-old auteur first achieved fame for such cult classic movies as "Pink Flamingoes." But the work he'll show at the Biennale, which he created in 2007, consists of a group of five red, white and blue plywood signs. Each exhorts viewers to "Study Art" for amusingly tongue-in-cheek reasons: "for fun or fame"; "for profit or hobby"; "for breeding or bounty"; "for pride or power"; and, finally, "for prestige or spite."
"This is a weirdly Baltimore-based work," Waters said.
"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."
Waters has known for the past year that he'd be exhibiting at the art world extravaganza. During a 2016 visit to Paris for his 70th birthday, he had coffee with Christine Macel, director of the 57th Biennale. The two had served together as jurors for the 2011 show.
"She told me, 'I have a birthday present for you that I think you're going to like,'" Waters said. "She said, 'We're including you in the group show.' I was just thrilled to be chosen."
Waters won't be in Venice when the show opens, though he hopes to attend the Biennale some time in the not-quite seven months that his signs will be on display.
"We're getting good real estate," Waters said, clearly relishing the opportunity. "I think the signs will be even ruder and more incorrect at the most prestigious art show in the world."