Skip to main content

Actor, filmmaker and artist John Waters is stepping up to help the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) in times of need.

Waters, from Baltimore, has pledged the majority of his private collection – 375 works by 125 artists – to the museum, which recently faced a backlash for its decision to hand over three paintings from its collection. (The sale was halted hours before a scheduled Sotheby’s auction).

Waters’ donation includes works by artists such as Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and Christopher Wool. The collection also includes approximately 90 prints, sculptures, mixed media and video pieces by Waters, which will make the BMA the largest collection of his work.

This generous gift follows a major retrospective of Waters’ work, titled Indecent exposurewhich opened at the BMA in fall 2018. In a statement, Waters said his relationship with the museum in his hometown began long ago, when he purchased a two-dollar Joan Miró poster from the BMA’s gift shop in the 1950s.

Tadashi Kawamata, “Destruction no. 8” (2016) from the collection of John Waters (courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art)

” After having taken [the poster] home and hanging it on my bedroom wall at my parents’ house, I realized from the hostile reaction of my neighborhood playmates that art can provoke, shock and cause trouble,” said the artist. “I became a lifelong collector. It’s only fitting that the fruits of my 60 years of searching for new art that might surprise, upset and infuriate me end up where it all began – in my hometown museum.

The famous cult artist, who has earned the nickname “Pope of Trash”, included a stipulation in the terms of the gift stating that the museum is not allowed to sell the works. The museum also accepted Waters’ playful request to name a rotunda and two restrooms after him.

“They thought I was joking and I said, ‘No, I’m serious,'” the artist told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s in the spirit of the artwork I collect, which has a sense of humor, is confrontational and minimalistic and drives people crazy.”