May 16, 2015 to June 4, 2017
Filthy Lucre, an immersive installation by painter Darren Waterston, reimagines James McNeill Whistler’s famed Peacock Room—an icon of American art—as a decadent ruin collapsing under the weight of its own creative excess. Forging a link between inventive and destructive forces, Filthy Lucre forms the centerpiece of Peacock Room REMIX, an exhibition that highlights the complicated and often dramatic tensions between art world egos, monetary and aesthetic value, and creative expression.
I set out to recreate Whistler’s fabled Peacock Room in a state of decadent demolition—a space collapsing in on itself, heavy with its own excess and tumultuous history. I imagined it as . . . a vision of both discord and beauty, the once-extravagant interior warped, ruptured.
The final companion installation, Chinamania, features work by contemporary ceramic sculptor Walter McConnell and explores the enduring craze for Chinese blue-and-white porcelain in the West.
Videos from National Museum of Asian Art and MASS MoCA
Like the Peacock Room, Filthy Lucre is a total work of art. Every surface is encrusted with gold or dripping with paint. Gilded stalactites hang from surfaces. Splintered shelves buckle and tilt. Brightly colored ceramics drip with glaze or shatter, their debris littering the floor. An eerie glow seeps between the shutters, while a haunting soundscape by the band BETTY emanates from the walls. Waterston’s interpretation of Whistler’s painting The Princess from the Land of Porcelain—her face now obscured by primordial ooze—oversees the devastation. The fighting peacocks elegantly posturing in Whistler’s painting Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room have turned gruesomely violent as they eviscerate each other in Waterston’s version.
Waterston’s title Filthy Lucre alludes to Whistler’s allegory of “art and money.” It is also a more direct reference to another painting—The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre (The Creditor)—that depicts Leyland morphing into a monstrous peacock. In 1879, using the blue, green, and gold tonalities of the Peacock Room, Whistler depicted his former friend as a hideous miser, the agent of the artist’s impending bankruptcy. Frilthy Lucre, now part of the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, will be on view in the Sackler as part of Peacock Room REMIX.
Despite its sagging shelves and discordant images, Filthy Lucre is exquisitely crafted and meticulously finished. Waterston created Filthy Lucre from July 2013 to March 2014 during a nine-month residency at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. A significant work in its own right, Filthy Lucre demonstrates the enduring influence of Whistler’s masterpiece on subsequent generations of artists.
Darren Waterston graduated in 1988 with a BFA from the Otis Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design) in Los Angeles. Prior to that he studied at the Akademie der Künste and the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Germany. His exhibition Uncertain Beauty, which includes the installation Filthy Lucre, premiered at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts (March 2014 through February 2015). For several months Waterston created Filthy Lucre in studio space generously provided to him by MASS MoCA.
Waterston has been exhibiting his paintings, works on paper, and installations in the United States and abroad since the early 1990s. Recent exhibition highlights include: Forest Eater in 2011 at the Contemporary Museum, Honolulu (now called the Honolulu Museum of Art); Splendid Grief: The Afterlife of Leland Stanford Jr., an installation in 2009 at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University in Stanford, California; and The Flowering (The Fourfold Sense) in 2007 at the Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
In 2007 Charta published a monograph on the artist, Darren Waterston: Representing the Invisible, and in 2013 Prestel published A Swarm, A Flock, A Host: A Compendium of Creatures, a collaboration between the artist and poet Mark Doty.
Waterston’s paintings are included in numerous permanent collections, such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; New York Public Library; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Seattle Art Museum; and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
The artist lives and works in New York City.
Reviews & Press
If the original Peacock Room can seem dream-like, this other room is a nightmare, a mad relation locked in the basement, the untamed id of the stately room upstairs.
Waterston proves that great works of art need to be confronted from time to time
The number of vases artist Darren Waterston painted and then bashed with a hammer for his Filthy Lucre installation at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art, a wrecked version of their James McNeill Whistler Peacock Room = 250
Partners & Sponsors
Peacock Room REMIX is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Darren Waterston’s installation Filthy Lucre, 2013-14 was created by the artist in collaboration with MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts.