The new John Waters john at the Baltimore Museum of Art tragically lacks even a single pink flamingo.
There are no bottles of hair spray on the washroom’s counter. Hand towels are made from paper, not polyester. In fact, the four stalls and sinks that constitute The John Waters Restrooms are utterly bereft of bad taste.
Is nothing sacred?
The filmmaker and BMA trustee attended Wednesday night’s dedication ceremony and appeared delighted at the clean and minimalist look of the four latrines designed by the Baltimore branch of Quinn Evans Architects. They open to the public Dec. 12.
“I’m really happy that I can be part of this elimination upgrade,” Waters said.
“Public restrooms make all people nervous. They’re unpredictable. They sometimes attract perverts. And they’re fueled by accidents, just like my favorite contemporary art.”
So what if the new restrooms celebrating Baltimore’s acclaimed Prince of Puke contain exactly zero artifacts designed to make a visitor lose his, her or their lunch?
This cool and modern washroom may be understated. But as Waters pointed out, that doesn’t mean they’re not subversive.
“When I heard the new restrooms could be remodeled for all genders, I was even more excited,” he said. “Finally, we can all go to the bathroom together.”
The stalls in the new gender-neutral bathrooms located on the first floor of the museum’s East Lobby are entered through full-length, floor-to-ceiling doors. There’s nary a urinal in sight.
“It’s full privacy,” Waters said. “You don’t even know who’s in there. That’s what I call progress.”
The new Waters closet is the curators’ way of thanking the Baltimore icon for his plan to bequeath 375 artworks to the museum. The collection of prints, paintings and photographs that the BMA will receive after the filmmaker’s death includes works by such major artists as Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Cindy Sherman — and Waters himself.
In addition to the restrooms, a domed room in the European galleries has been christened “The John Waters Rotunda.”
Waters invited an old friend to help him dedicate the restrooms, the transgender actress and activist Elizabeth Coffey. She appeared in Waters’ 1972 cult classic film, “Pink Flamingos,” playing the role of Flasher Girl.
For Coffey, the museum’s new facilities represent an important step forward in gender equality.
“Yeah, a lot of this is funny,” Coffey said. “It’s playful.”
“But what I’m really excited about is that we all get to do this together. I don’t have to look around and say, ‘I’ll go here and you should go there and the rest of you — well, I don’t know where you can go.’ In many places, people are driven out when they just want to do something as elementary as go to the bathroom.”
Waters attended the dedication ceremony just before embarking upon a frenzied fall schedule that includes a trip to Poland to appear at that country’s film festival, two spoken-word tours, and an upcoming guest appearance in Amazon Prime’s hit show ”The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
That’s not all: Waters’ first novel, “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance,” comes out in May and chronicles the travails of a woman who steals suitcases at airports.
The filmmaker is on the cover of the current issue of Town & Country magazine wearing Gucci and Prada. (A longtime subscriber to the luxury style publication, Waters says he reads “110 magazines a month and six newspapers every morning.”)
Earlier this year, he appeared in an advertisement for Nike. And last year, he was the face of Saint Laurent’s fall/winter menswear campaign.
Then there’s the early stage of a film project Waters can’t talk about yet, and an upcoming exhibit of his artwork that he also can’t discuss.
The filmmaker spent most of the past 18 months during the COVID-19 pandemic at his home in Baltimore, with occasional jaunts to San Francisco, where he also has an apartment, and to Rome, to attend a film festival.
For Waters, that’s tantamount to standing still.
The pandemic cost Waters 50 speaking gigs. But it didn’t alter the work habits set in place for decades and maintained by a lifetime of discipline that has included plotting his daily schedule meticulously on 3-by-5 index cards. Waters sets aside weekdays between 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. for writing.
“Not 7:59 a.m.,” he told Town & Country, ”not 8:01 a.m. — at 8 a.m. And every day I think, ‘Oh, I can’t do it,‘ and at 8:01 a.m. I’m doing it.”
A recent writing project involved reconfiguring Waters’ annual tour of spoken-word performances. Previously called “This Filthy World,” the show has been renamed “False Negative” in light of the pandemic. It opened last week; the 2021 version of “A John Waters Christmas” will debut the day after Thanksgiving.
“I had to completely rewrite it because no jokes are the same after COVID,” Waters said.
“I go into all sorts of crazy fantasies about how I’m addicted to these [vaccination] shots, I’ve had 20 of them. I’m so high on antibodies they’re going to have to duct tape me to the plane.
“But I don’t do too much of that. People are sick of talking about COVID.”
Even setting aside all the other projects, Waters’ tour schedule is daunting: two scripts to memorize so he can perform a 70-minute monologue on stage without notes, 16 cities to tour before the end of the year, not counting Poland. Or is it 18? Or 20?
It’s not as if Waters needs the money; he also owns a home in New York and rents an apartment in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It’s not as if he craves respectability; he crossed into the mainstream long before “Hairspray” won the Tony Award for best musical in 2003.
He’s 75. Why does he keep up that pace?
“I only get one life,” Waters said. “I want to read every book and go to every country and meet every person before I drop dead.”