Getting Inside John Waters' Twisted Bald Head at McClain Gallery

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Over a film career spanning 40 years, John Waters has managed to simultaneously offend and entertain his audience. His art, it turns out, is no different.

In Neurotic, McClain Gallery displays conceptual works by the "Pink Flamingos" director made between 1993 and 2009 that comment on film, writing, sex, humor, and, yes, neuroses -- it's a glimpse inside Waters' twisted, transgressive bald head.

The bulk of the show is comprised of these visual storyboards -- movie stills Waters took with a camera and grouped by a highly specific, highly dark theme. There are images of plane crashes, people puking, drug use -- he tries to make you cringe, then laugh, then question both reactions. In other, less shocking montages, Waters had some fun with Photoshop. In Product Placement, he adds some unfamiliar items to famous movie moments (in one humorous scene, Charlton Heston's Moses clutches The Ten Commandments in one hand, a bottle of Tilex in the other). In Farrah, the likes of Julia Roberts and the Wicked Witch of the East are outfitted with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo, the whole thing looking like a bad middle school collage art project, but still endearing. Though all made within the past 15 years, these series have this throwback 1980s New York art school vibe that Waters seems to embody.

On the non-photography side, Waters fills the gallery with quirky surprises that are also highly personal works. There's his larger-than-life replica of a La Mer jar -- a long-time favorite of the artist's -- minus the actual lotion (if he did fill it with the pricey stuff, the jar would have a price tag upwards of $200,000); the hands-on 7734, which if you go ahead and turn around, reveals the word "Hell," like one of those juvenile calculator jokes, but pre-calculator; and Bad Directors Chair, a white director's chair stamped with words like "Hack," "Tested Badly," and "Piece of Shit." It seems to invite you inside Waters' head on his worst day.

For some inside art world humor, there's Visit Marfa, a satirical advertisement for the minimalist art capital of Texas. The poster highlights such attractions as "Eat food all the same color," "Pretend to see "The 'Marfa Lights,'" "It's a l-o-o-o-o-n-g drive!" You get the idea. It's one of the few insidery pieces in an otherwise highly accessible show.

Another work that may require some background is 9/11. At first glance, the piece doesn't seem to be much about anything at all. It consists of the opening title screenshots to two innocuous movies -- "Dr. Dolittle 2" and "A Knight's Tale." The work has been circulating circa 2006, and since that time Waters has revealed that those were the planned in-flight movies on the two airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11. It's an odd, macabre detail that Waters went to great lengths to find out, and the resulting cinematic tribute to that horrible day might make you smirk, given the low quality of the forgettable films themselves. And then you'll feel horrible about finding any humor in it at all. And then you'll wonder why you feel horrible about it. And then, Waters' work is done.

The McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond Avenue, presents "Neurotic" now through April 21. For more information, call 713-520-9988 or visit the gallery's website.

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