Actor John Waters at the preview of his 2018 exhibition Indecent Exposure at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2018 (photo by Chuck Patch)

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

Waters, a Baltimore native, has pledged the majority of his private collection — 375 works by 125 artists — to the museum, which recently faced fierce backlash for its decision to deaccession three paintings in its collection. (The sale was halted hours before a planned Sotheby’s auction).

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

The generous gift follows a major retrospective of Waters’s work, titled Indecent Exposure, which opened at the BMA in the fall of 2018. In a statement, Waters said that his relationship with his hometown museum started long ago, when he bought a two-dollar Joan Miró poster at BMA’s gift shop as a child in the 1950s.

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

“After taking [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 could provoke, shock, and cause trouble,” the artist said. “I became a collector for life. It’s only fitting that the fruits of my 60-year search for new art that could startle, antagonize, and infuriate even me, ends up where it all began — in my hometown museum.”

The celebrated cult artist, who has earned the moniker “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 agreed to Waters’s playful request to name a rotunda and two restrooms after him.

“They thought I was kidding 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 and is confrontational and minimalist and which makes people crazy.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...