Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre presents a dystopian response to the celebrated Peacock Room of 1876, designed by the architect Thomas Jeckyll and made infamous by the controversial painter James Abbott MacNeill Whistler. Whistler’s lavish palette of vivid blues and iridescent green-golds, sumptuous treatments that covered every surface from window shutters to ceiling, and gilded peacock motifs, inspired the title of his decorative masterpiece: Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room. The title of Waterston’s work – Filthy Lucre – conversely reflects the underbelly of the Aesthetic Movement, the tension between art and commerce, patronage and artistic ego. This was demonstrated by the deteriorating relationship between Whistler and his patron Frederick Richard Leyland and culminated in Whistler’s satiric portrait of Leyland known as The Golden Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre, which played on Leyland’s predilection not only for frilly shirts but also his role as a captain of industry, and inspired Waterson’s rendition.

Replicating almost every detail of Whistler’s masterpiece, Waterston transforms the room into an uneasy experience of destruction and twisted excess, drawing parallels between the economic inequality of the Victorian era and today. Created through extensive collaboration, Filthy Lucre demonstrates master craftsmanship to reimagine the luxurious wood panelling, ornate lighting pendants and stunning ceramics collection, as well as decorative wall art and a captivating central portrait that draws viewers into the room. A soundscape by New York-based rockers BETTY also enhances the installation experience, filling the space with muffled gossiping voices and a mournful cello.

Darren Waterston: Filthy Lucre was created by the artist in collaboration with MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts. The exhibit was on view at MASS MoCA from March 2014 – February 2015 and at the Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC from May 2015 – June 2017.

PHOTO CREDIT: Amber Gray Photography