The Baltimore Museum of Art started 2019 with one of the busiest weekends in its history—including a rare “sold out” day—as hundreds lined up to see the John Waters retrospective before it closed.
On Saturday, museum staffers were forced to deny admission to prospective patrons by mid-afternoon, after ticket sales reached capacity for the building’s galleries. The museum stayed open past its regular Saturday operating hours to accommodate the long lines of people who had reservations. Sunday was almost as busy.
The show that drew the crowds was John Waters: Indecent Exposure, an exhibit of visual art created by the Baltimore-based writer, filmmaker and visual artist.
On view since October 7, this was the first retrospective in Baltimore of Waters’ work as a visual artist, and Sunday was the last day of the show. The museum is open for free but charges an admission for certain exhibits, including the Waters retrospective. Ticket prices ranged from $5 for visitors 18 and under to $15 for adults. Not even members could gain admission if they didn’t have a reservation.
On Saturday, demand for tickets was so strong that sales were cut off around 3:30 p.m. Visitors who came to the museum after that were greeted with a sign at the reservations desk stating that the exhibit was sold out and encouraging people to make reservations for Sunday.
“Yesterday was the single busiest day that we had for this exhibit,” even surpassing opening day, said Mercedes Lopez, the museum’s visitor experience manager. In all, 1,294 people saw the show on Saturday, and 1,168 saw it on Sunday, according to the museum’s count. They came from all over Maryland, and an unusually high percentage weren’t museum members, Lopez added.
“People are definitely coming out to see John Waters,” she said. “We had a lot of people who had never been to the museum before, but who had run into John in a bar or saw his Christmas show. It’s always exciting to have first-time visitors.”
Lopez said the last BMA exhibit to have a sold-out day was the Matisse/Dieberkorn show in 2016, featuring the works of Henri Matisse and Richard Diebenkorn. For the John Waters show, the mood was more relaxed and playful, she said.
“We had a lot of unusual outfits, a lot of people dressing up. People came in beehives and as characters from his movies. That was a lot of fun to see the quirkiness of his fans.”
On Sunday, Lopez said, the museum was at capacity from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. but still had some tickets in the afternoon, when the Ravens were playing the Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium.
People standing in line around 4:30 p.m. Saturday had various reasons for waiting to visit the museum. Some said they received the tickets as gifts and that the day and time were chosen in advance. Others said they knew the show was ending and bought the tickets just before sales were cut off.
Liz Fisher said she came from Easton to see the show. “My daughter gave this to me for Christmas,” she said, adding that she is a big fan of Waters. “Better late than never.”
“We’re last-minute Larrys,” admitted Kate Clemmons, who stood at the end of the line with her husband, Brent. She also said they got the tickets as a gift and that they were celebrating an important occasion: “It’s our wedding anniversary.”
Jason Bartholomew said he and his wife Rebecca Klein were near the end of the line because “we have a 5 year old.” Bartholomew said they put off getting tickets because they figured the show “would be there forever,” then realized it was closing on January 6. He said they called for tickets around 3 p.m. on Saturday and apparently got them just before sales ended.
Francis Tucci wasn’t so lucky. She and a friend drove from Howard County to see the show and were told tickets were sold out. She said they stayed to see other exhibits at the museum, including the Cone collection and the Ebony G. Patterson tapestry exhibit in the Berman Textile Gallery.
Tucci speculated that the partial shutdown of the federal government may have contributed to the crowds, because many of the museums in Washington were closed on Saturday. “I’m thinking that because of the shutdown in D. C., a lot of people came here,” she said.
The crowds were good for business at the museum’s gift shop and restaurant Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen, both of which were busy through the weekend. Many in the gift shop were buying Waters-related souvenirs, including framed prints, T-shirts, and tank tops.
Besides triggering a sell-out, the John Waters show was shaping up to be BMA exhibit with the highest attendance in 2018, according to the museum’s senior director of communications, Anne Mannix-Brown, who said the Waters show was likely to be the “highest attended” for the year, although not the highest in museum history.
Those who missed Indecent Exposure during its Baltimore run still have a chance to see it if they are willing to travel. The exhibit opens at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, on February 2 and runs through April 28.