John Waters artwork, films shine in New Orleans

Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press

New Orleans — The New Orleans Museum of Art is about to begin a John Waters film festival to celebrate a gift of photographs and a sculpture by the movie maker.


This undated image provided by the New Orleans Museum of Art shows the sculpture "Rush," by John Waters, a gift by Arthur Roger. The New Orleans Museum of Art is about to begin a John Waters film festival to celebrate five of the movie maker's still works, part of a collection donated by a longtime gallery owner and on display at the museum.

Waters’ pieces include “Pig Latin,” a 6½-foot-long (2-meter) strip of photos showing eight movie scenes with a pig Latinized line from seven of them, starting with Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” and “I-way oulda-cay een-bay a-way ontender-cay.” Then there’s “Toilet Training,” a 5½-foot (1.7-meter) strip of photographs showing toilet scenes from nine movies including John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction” and Nicole Kidman in “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Waters’ pieces, which also include an 18-inch (46-centimeter) sculpture of a spilled drug “popper,” are among more than 80 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures donated by Arthur Roger , whom the museum describes as a pioneer in bringing contemporary art to New Orleans. He began collecting art after opening the Arthur Roger Gallery 39 years ago.


Honoree John Waters attends 69th Writers Guild Awards New York Ceremony at Edison Ballroom on February 19, 2017 in New York City.

“If three people said, ‘I couldn’t live with that,’ I started to care for it and took it home,” he said in a Facetime interview from England, where he was vacationing.

It turned out well: “The things people sort of were afraid of or were rejecting tend to be, a lot of times, the best work,” he said.

Roger said he loves living with art, and keeps it everywhere. “Pig Latin” was in his TV room. In the bathroom, he hung “Arthur as Sampson,” a portrait by Louisiana artist Douglas Bourgeois. The portrait shows Roger, well-muscled and in bodybuilder’s briefs, as columns crumble behind him.

“It’s me when I was competing in the Gay Games a long time ago,” Roger said. He joked that Bourgeois’ paintings are in such demand that “the only way I’d have one is something no one else wanted.”


The undated image provided by the New Orleans Museum of Art shows "Self-Portrait/Cutting," 1993, by artist Catherine Opie.

Two other Bourgeois pieces are in the show. Other work includes New Orleans artists John T. Scott, Ida Kohlmeyer and Robert Gordy; and early works by artists who later became nationally known, including photographer Katherine Opie, glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Opie’s “Self-Portrait/Cutting,” is “one of her most iconic images now. And Arthur was one of the first galleries to exhibit it before people knew about her work,” said Allison Young, a curatorial fellow who worked on the exhibition.

Roger said New Orleans turned out to be an artistic draw. In most cities, he said, suggesting a gallery show would bring questions like “How well do you think it would do? Do you have a market?” But, he said, “In New Orleans, they say, ‘Yeah! Let’s do a show!’”

He said he met Mapplethorpe when the artist was being mentored by another client, painter and photographer George Dureau, who is represented in the exhibit with six photographs.

Roger said Waters’ movies had been important in his own development, and not just because he’s gay.

“Being young and trying to see where you fit in and realizing there was something very different about you, it was very exciting to see someone who celebrated people’s differences,” he said.


This undated image provided by the New Orleans Museum of Art shows Ida Kohlmeyer's mixed media on canvas, titled "Synthesis BB," 1983.

So when he heard that Waters was having his first art exhibit in New York, Roger queried about a show in New Orleans.

“He immediately responded. We became friends and started working with his art work from the beginning of his art career,” Roger said.

Waters interviewed Rogers for the show; the interview, plus illustrations — including one of them together outside a club called One-Eyed Jack’s — takes 17 pages of the show’s 143-page catalog.

The exhibit of Rogers’ donations, titled “Pride of Place: The Making of Contemporary Art in New Orleans,” opened last month and runs through Sept. 23.

The five-movie film festival begins July 28 with “Pink Flamingos” and continues with “Polyester,” ‘’Hairspray” — which brought Waters into the mainstream — followed by “Cry-Baby” and “Pecker.”

So many people want to see “Pink Flamingos,” Waters’ 1972 breakout film, that the museum scheduled two showings, said Erin Greenwald, the museum’s curator of programs.

Greenwald said “For the screening of Pink Flamingos, we’re going to have a drag impersonator as Divine,” who starred in four of Waters’ films before his death in 1988. For Cry-Baby, there will be a 1950s tribute band, and a local DJ will play 1960s rhythm and blues and rock and roll for “Hairspray.”