February 12, 2014 - MASS MoCA - Darren Waterston
February 12, 2014

Darren Waterston

Darren Waterston in studio. Photo: Danielle Poulin, 2013.

Darren Waterston: Uncertain Beauty
March 8, 2014–February 1, 2015

Opening: Saturday, March 29, 2014, 5–7pm

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
1040 MASS MoCA Way
North Adams, MA 01247


In his first major museum exhibition on the East Coast, painter Darren Waterston’s installation Filthy Lucre—the centerpiece of his exhibition Uncertain Beauty—reimagines James McNeill Whistler’s decorative masterpiece Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (1876–77). Fascinated with The Peacock Room both for its lyrical union of painting and architecture and for its dramatic story of patronage and artistic ego, Waterston created an installation that hints at parallels between the excesses and inequities of the Gilded Age (and the European society it mimicked) and the social and economic disparities of our own time.  At the same time, the work raises questions about patronage and the relationships between artists, collectors, and institutions. Filthy Lucre is a reminder of the complexities and contradictions of the artist-patron relationship, as well as a reference to the relationship between art and money.  

The original Peacock Room—the dining room of the London home of shipping magnate Frederick Leyland—was designed to showcase Leyland’s collection of Asian ceramics, with Whistler’s painting La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (1863–64) prominently displayed. Asked to consult on the color scheme for the room, Whistler took bold liberties while Leyland and his architect were away, and painted the entire room—executing his now-famous peacocks over the expensive Italian leather wall panels. The collector refused to pay Whistler’s bill and banned him from the house; in response Whistler painted an unflattering caricature of his patron titled The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre (The Creditor)

At MASS MoCA, Waterston reconstructs the historical room as an extravagant ruin. Visitors will find a crumbling structure with re-interpretations of Whistler’s work in Waterston’s distinct style, as well as 250 hand-painted ceramic vessels inspired by the collections of both Leyland and the American industrialist, Charles Freer, who acquired The Peacock Room after Leyland’s death. 

Describing Filthy Lucre, Waterston comments, “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. The once-extravagant interior is warped, ruptured, and in the process of being overtaken by natural phenomena: stalactites hang from the mantelpiece, light fixtures morph into crystal-like formations, and moss and barnacles cover the walls. Painted vessels sit broken and scattered, or drip florescent glazes down the latticed shelves. The shimmering central mural melts down the wall onto the floor in a puddle of gold. The painting of the reigning ‘Porcelain Princess’—depicted in fantastical deformity—oversees the unsettling scene.”

The installation is accompanied by two galleries filled with nearly thirty of Waterston’s paintings and works on paper. A selection of studies for Filthy Lucre and related works will also be on view. 

Filthy Lucre will travel to Washington, DC, to the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (adjacent to the Freer Gallery of Art where The Peacock Room is housed) in summer 2015.

For images showing the artist in process: dam.massmoca.org

Performance by Filthy Lucre soundscape composers BETTY: Saturday, March 22, 8pm 

Artist talk: Thursday, August 7, 6pm

Panel discussion: Thursday, August 28, 6pm
Presented in partnership with The Mount (edithwharton.org)

MASS MoCA is one of the world’s liveliest (and largest!) centers for making and enjoying the best new art of our time. Hundreds of works of visual and performing art have been created on its 19th–century factory campus during fabrication and rehearsal residencies in North Adams. MASS MoCA brings to its audiences art and shared learning experiences that are fresh, engaging, and transformative. 

This exhibition is supported by Leslie Mason & Thad Meyerriecks, ABC Carpet & Home, Bridget Moore, Ann Hatch, Robin Reed & Lorye George, Federico de Vera, Greg Kucera & Larry Yocom, Cheryl Haines, Kerry Inman & Denby Auble, Kathleen O’Grady, Dave Koz, Kaye Cummings, and Valerie Justin. Additional funding is provided by a grant from the Artist’s Resource Trust, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Bonnie Schaefer, the Kevin J. Mossier Foundation, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Home Furnishings, and Gheri Arnold.


Darren Waterston at MASS MoCA
Share - Darren Waterston
  • Share