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Baltimore provocateur John Waters will exhibit his artwork at prestigious Venice Biennale

John Waters will exhibit his art at the world's most prestigious art show.

Baltimore's favorite bad boy, John Waters, has been selected to exhibit in the 2017 Venice Biennale — and the world's most august art show suddenly got a whole lot more fun.

Waters is one of 120 visual artists (and one of 23 who either was born in or worked in the U.S.) who was selected to be part of  “Viva Arte Viva,” the international show that functions as the biennale's centerpiece.

Waters, reached Friday through a spokeswoman, declined to immediately provide details of what he will be exhibiting. 

"John is probably Baltimore's famous native son, and I love the idea that his artwork will be represented in Venice," said Christopher Bedford, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, which will present the U.S. entry to the biennale this year.

"It will be an unusual concentration of Baltimore presence in Venice. It seems to me a pretty amazing moment for Baltimore to become fully international."

There are three aspects to the biennale, often described as the Olympics of the art world.

The bulk of the press attention is given to the exhibits mounted by individual nations. So far, 84 countries have registered to sponsor pavilions that will compete for the prized Golden Lion for best national presentation — the equivalent of best in show. 

America's representative for 2017 is the Los Angeles-based painter Mark Bradford, who has been commissioned to create an exhibit for the U.S. pavilion that will be titled, "Tomorrow Is Another Day."

Bradford's work is being presented by the BMA, which this year is the lead institution charged with putting together the U.S. entry.

The second aspect of the biennale is the international group show in which Waters will participate. The show frequently reflects artistic viewpoints worldwide about a particular topic or issue. Participants are selected by the biennale's artistic director, which in 2017 is Christine Macel, the chief curator of Paris's Centre Pompidou. 

The list of selected artists was posted online this week, though it's not clear from Macel's published statements what the theme for the 2017 show will be.

In addition, Venice's many museums also sponsor exhibits tied to the biennale, in effect becoming the third wing of the festival. The 57th international exhibit will run from May 13 to Nov. 26.

Waters is best known as a filmmaker and as the creator of such cult classics as "Pink Flamingos," "Serial Mom" and "Hairspray," which later became a blockbuster Broadway musical.

But, Baltimore's self-proclaimed "filth elder" also has a burgeoning career as a visual artist. His work has been displayed at museums and galleries nationwide.

In 2011, Waters served as guest curator for an exhibit at Minneapolis' prestigious Walker Art Center, and in the fall of 2018, the Baltimore Museum of Art will hold a retrospective of Waters' artwork.

This won't even be the first time that Waters has participated in the Venice Biennale. In 2011, he and Macel were members of the five-judge international panel that awarded the Golden Lion to Germany.

Waters, not surprisingly, is a witty and astute observer of the art world, which he has likened to a secret society with its own vocabulary, rules and dress code.

He once created a piece called "Contemporary Art Hates You" — thereby confirming a suspicion long held by the rest of us — and is on the record as espousing the contrarian viewpoint that visual art should be impenetrable.

"I'm against art for the people," he has said.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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