Matt Groening, Gary Panter, and John Waters turned up at AVAM Friday night. A veritable dream team of subversive humor, the trio attended the preview party for the museum’s new exhibition, What Makes Us Smile?, which is co-curated by Groening, Panter, and AVAM Founder/Director Rebecca Hoffberger and includes work by Waters (who, truth be told, isn’t an outsider artist at all—although he certainly qualifies as visionary).
After welcoming comments from Hoffberger, Groening told a few dozen AVAM supporters gathered in the permanent collection gallery how much he loves the museum. He noted that the current show, once again, proves how special it is, and he thanked Hoffberger. In fact, the Simpsons’ creator has been known to call AVAM his favorite museum in the world.
He introduced Panter by noting, “Bart has that picket fence, spike-y hairdo. Well, that was based on Gary Panter’s character, Jimbo. That’s where that came from. So thank you, Gary. Thank you for making me very rich.”
That got big laughs.
Panter thanked the artists who had work in the show—some of them were there, including Reverend Aitor and Anado McLauchlin—and also gushed about what “a fantastic place” AVAM is.
Hoffberger then noted that there were a few youngsters in attendance—including my son, Levi, and his new friend, Bailey. “Can we make this biased towards children?” she asked. “Would the children come up first to meet Matt and get things signed if they like? Anybody who’s a kid should come right up.”
For the next half hour, Groening graciously chatted with the kids and signed their books. But he didn’t just scribble his name—he inscribed each book and asked the children to name their favorite Simpsons character, which he then drew for them. He asked Levi and Bailey if they liked to draw and, after hearing they were budding cartoonists, encouraged them to keep at it.
Standing off to the side, Panter—who’s perhaps best known for designing the jaw-dropping sets for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse—recalled past book signings with Groening. “There’d be maybe 40 people in line to see me, and about 400 people there for him,” he said, chuckling. “But I can tell you that all the attention and money have not changed Matt one bit, and I’ve known him for years. He’s still the same guy I used to share a cheeseburger with, because we couldn’t afford to buy two sandwiches. Now, when I’m in L.A., he drives me around, and we go get tacos. He hasn’t changed one bit.”
When asked what he and Groening would do in Baltimore, he said they’d probably visit the new Frank Zappa statue. “We’re both big fans,” said Panter, who did cover art for a few Zappa albums in the 1980s. After the crowd thinned, Groening and Panter wandered upstairs to the galleries.
Awhile later, Waters arrived. He’d just taken the train from New York, where he attended a Warhol Foundation board meeting, his last as a trustee. He circulated through the galleries, too, checking out pieces by the likes of Pedro Bell and Maryland artist John Roots Hopkins.
Hoffberger, AVAM’s chief visionary, looked pleased—almost like a proud parent. AVAM was 15 years old, now in its adolescence, and had earned the blessing of these pop culture deities. It was enough to make you smile.
[photo: John Lewis]