John Waters gave his collection to the Baltimore Museum of Art. They named the toilets after him.

John Waters arrives for the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards on February 23, 2019 in Santa Monica, CA
John Waters arrives for the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards on February 23, 2019 in Santa Monica, CA Photo: Shutterstock

Depending on the size and type of gift they make to a particular institution, donors might end up with their names on a building, a lobby, or a garden.

But when writer and filmmaker John Waters made a sizable donation to the Baltimore Museum of Art, he took a different approach: He specifically asked for the bathrooms to be named after him.

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“I fought for that,” Waters said in a phone call. “People thought I was kidding.”

And so, in the future, museum patrons who need a potty break will be able to find relief in The John Waters Restrooms in the East Lobby of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

In other words, the johns will be named after John. Male, female, trans, it doesn’t matter. Everyone will be able to go to gender-neutral John Waters Restrooms. To piss in the John Waters toilet.

Having set his plan in motion, Waters is already thinking of the possibilities: Lines flowing out the door. People just itching to get in. A new must-see destination for his hometown.

“Maybe people will come from all over the world to eliminate there,” he muses. “That will be something that the Maryland Tourist Bureau can push.”

Waters, 74, offered to donate the bulk of his private art collection to the museum after he passes away.

While he may be best known as a filmmaker, writer, and spoken-word entertainer, this is no small gift. The Baltimore native and resident has been a serious art collector for more than 50 years. He’s also a visual artist, the subject of a career retrospective at the Baltimore museum and Ohio’s Wexner Center for the Arts, entitled John Waters: Indecent Exposure.

The promised gift includes 375 works from Waters’ fine art collection.

It’s rich in photographs and works on paper with examples by 125 artists, including Diane Arbus, Richard Artschwager, Thomas Demand, Nan Goldin, Roy Lichtenstein, Lee Lozano, Christian Marclay, Catherine Opie, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Gary Simmons, Cy Twombly, Christopher Wool and Andy Warhol.

It also includes 87 prints, sculptures, mixed-media and video pieces by Waters. It will make the Baltimore Museum of Art the greatest repository of his work.

In recognition of his gift, the museum bowed to Waters’ wishes and agreed to name the two restrooms off its main lobby in his honor. It’s also naming a space in its European art galleries The John Waters Rotunda. All for the man who once thought of a bumper sticker to promote his city: “Come to Baltimore and Be Shocked!”

Waters notes that he’s not a fan of public restrooms, in general.

“You know, I don’t think anybody should go in the bathroom,” he confides. “I think you should eliminate at home.”

But of all the spaces in the museum, he says, he thinks the restrooms are the most appropriate place to bear his name. The most John Waters-ish, if you will. And many toilet terms are considered obscene, not unlike some John Waters movies.

“Bathrooms are always unmentionable,” he said. “Sometimes people meet in bathrooms. You never know. And at the same time, it just went along with my sense of humor and the kind of art that I appreciate.”

And then there’s the shock value of it, he said.

“I thought it might make people laugh. I think that’s very, very important. With art, too.”

Although he doesn’t have it in writing, Waters said, he’s heard the museum wants to be inclusive with The John Waters Restrooms.

“There was talk, and I don’t know if it’s coming, that one of them might even be a trans bathroom for the first time,” he said.

According to the senior director of communications, Anne Mannix-Brown, the museum plans to eventually make all of its restrooms gender-neutral.

“Are they? OK, good,” Waters said. “I didn’t even know that. OK. Good, good, good.”

There’s also a chance that The John Waters Restrooms may feature some of the art he’s donating to the museum.

“I have a piece by Tony Tasset called ‘I Peed in my Pants,'” Waters told The Baltimore Sun. “There’s ‘Wedged Lump’ by Mike Kelley that looks exactly like a giant turd. I also have George Stoll’s chiffon toilet paper. I have a lot of art that would work in a bathroom.”

As much as he’s eager to see a world with The John Waters Restrooms, and a new tourist spot for Baltimore, Waters is hesitant to talk about the possibilities for selfies. Cruising? Quickies? Nooners?

“I’m not going to go that far,” he said. “What you choose to do in the John Waters bathroom, I think I’ll leave that one alone.”

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