John Waters is Not Your Typical Absentee Landlord

For anyone who has had to live with window screens held in place by packaging tape or walls bubbling from mold, the title “Absentee Landlord” may send shivers down your spine. But not to worry, this exhibition curated by notorious filmmaker John Waters consists of playful pairings of work from the depths of the Walker Art Centers’ permanent collection supported by work brought in by some of Waters’ favorite artists.

While this is John Water’s first endeavor as a curator, he is no stranger to dealing with fine art. As a serious art collector, Waters maintains his own collection. His approach here is refreshing. He is not scared to make unorthodox pairing. In this exhibition, John Water’s thinks of the individual works as entities that are forced to live as roommates in tight quarters and considers how they will interact. Works by blue chip artists are forced to share space with younger artists and a few trouble making pieces are thrown into the mix.

[caption id="attachment_886" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="Eve in a Blue Sweater. Russ Meyers"]Eve in a Blue Sweater. Russ Meyers[/caption]

Waters hangs Eve in a Blue Sweater a photograph of a confrontational busty woman by Russ Meyers only a few feet from Yves Kline’s Suaire de Mondo Cane , a large piece made from the impressions of nude women covered in blue paint.  Waters makes the viewer consider these pieces differently in this context. Both works focus on female nudity covered in blue, but where do we see the difference?  These men were controversial in their day, but Yves Kline is now considered a twentieth century master while Russ Meyers, filmmaker noted for being the father of the “nudie-cutie”, still seems trashy.

[caption id="attachment_892" align="aligncenter" width="417" caption="Woman. Willem De Koonig"][/caption]

Maybe the most interesting pairing in the show is Willem De Koonig’s drawing Woman hung below and to the side of  contemporary  artist Jess von der Ahe’s Helmut Berger as Ludwig ll. Here we have of two artists’ portrayals of the opposite sex.  DeKoonig’s drawing is an expressive sketch that reads of fear and anxiety of the female form. Its aggressive line work and grotesquely distorted figure can be viewed as negative in its portrayal of women.  In contrast, von der Ahe’s Helmut is a supple and quiet painting showing an emotionally distressed man lying in a week state. Its lush monochromatic brushwork reflects a dreamy romanticism. It is not until you realize Helmut Berger it is painted with the artist's menstrual blood do you fully realize the visceral qualities of the work.

[caption id="attachment_893" align="aligncenter" width="515" caption="Helmut Berger as Ludwig ll. Jess von der Ahe. Reproduced with permission from the artist."][/caption]

One of the highlights of the show is Gregory Green’s installation Work Table #9. This piece recreates the den of a mad bomber. Walking in, it is hard not to get a chill. The room feels as if a dangerous outcast just stepped out, with the equipment to make bombs mixed with propaganda books and a hot plate of some questionable food or explosive. This room reads less as shock value as it is an eerie reminder of members of our society that are cast aside and desperate for a voice. Delusional scattered thinking and paranoia are disconcertingly palpable here.

The major thing to take away from Absentee Landlord is how the context of a piece of art enhances certain aspects of its meaning.  There is not one “right” way to hang a show and no piece lives in a vacuum. I have to applaud the Walker for the braveness of their recent curatorial choices. (For another example, check out the “Museum of Natural History” style gallery in Midnight Party, complete with dark wood cabinets). These unconventional choices help the make the art more accessible to a larger audience without trivializing it.

-John Megas


Absentee Landlord

On View: June 11th, 2011 – March 4th, 2012

Where: Walker Art Center

Address: 1750 Hennepin Avenue Minneapolis, MN 55403

Gallery Phone: 612.375.7600

Hours: Tuesday - Sunday, 11 am - 5 pm , Open late Thursday, 11 am - 9 pm, Closed Mondays


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