Sometimes a big, brassy show, full of visual puns in all media, such as the new John Waters exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery, where the gracious artist, sporting a paint-stained madras jacket, spends hours schmoozing and smooching hordes of his adoring fans while discussing the embarrassment of donning the Provincetown Town Crier's pilgrim costume to have his picture taken next to a giant anchor, actually boils down to one picture.
That picture is John Jr., a 2009 C-print of a painting of a boy, done in the style of Norman Rockwell, or perhaps Y.Z. Kami, a boy who will never exist and yet lives powerfully in the mind's eye of his creator and all who view him. Those who have never lived can never die, and thus John Jr. stares out at us from beyond time, his winsomeness matched by our sorrow at his non-existence. His face, of course, echoes what we imagine to be the boy Waters, and his eyes summarize a deep longing we don't associate, necessarily, with his Dad, who is a hero to children everywhere, yet, in a personal corner of his life, somehow denied.
John Jr. unites us in the ephemerality of being and its dark shadow. Its sincerity washes away the presumption of kitsch in its esthetic origins. John Jr. comes out of the clown paintings, the forgotten attics and the quick summer flings. How I wish I could snap my fingers and carry him downstairs to the grand and gentle Mr. Waters!
John Waters, "Rear Projection," Apr. 3-May 2, 2009, at Marianne Boesky Gallery, 509 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).