In 1990, the Venice Biennale included a controversial contribution from American AIDS activist art collective Gran Fury. The ACT UP offshoot's installation took aim at the Catholic Church's position on contraception, via a picture of the Pope that was positioned a little too closely to a photo of erect penis for the Vatican's liking. 27 years later, the Biennale has grown bolder, this time extending an invite to the Pope himself — the Pope of Trash, that is. John Waters will be blessing the prestigious art world institution with a few of his own works.
The Baltimore provocateur's latest project consists of five plywood signs in patriotic colours. They present viewers with an ostensibly inoffensive message: "study art." Ironically, it's the Anal Anarchist himself who finds their message blasphemous. The sculptures are variations on a real sign he saw in Baltimore that ready "Study Art for profit or hobby," Waters revealed to the Baltimore Sun, "which is about the most politically incorrect thing you can say if you're an artist." Unsurprisingly, Waters loved it. His own satirical odes to the original sign implore viewers to pursue art "for fun or fame," "for profit or hobby," "for breeding or bounty," "for pride or power," and last but not least, "for prestige or spite."
Waters actually created the signs back in 2007. He only decided to bring them to Venice after meeting with Biennale director Christine Macel in 2016, while in Paris for his 70th birthday. "She told me, 'I have a birthday present for you that I think you're going to like,'" Waters said. He's clearly stoked for the chance to present his sculptures to the art world elite. "We're getting good real estate," Waters informed his hometown newspaper of record. "I think the signs will be even ruder and more incorrect at the most prestigious art show in the world."
Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Alasdair McLellan