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.
I began thinking about all the great painted rooms in art history and recalled Whistler's strange and splendid Peacock Room.... I started to think about my own project as an all-encompassing environment. I imagined it as a painting that one would literally "walk into," completely surrounding the viewer in the experience.
Luxury has burgeoned to excess; the decay is physical, but feels moral.