– 17.05.2011

Mark Morrisroe has been rediscovered and many are discovering him for the first time. As part of Nan Goldin’s posse, might well be the photographer with the most slender volume of work but also the most striking.

Mark Morrisroe, “La Môme Piaf [Pat and Thierry],” 1982 © Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

In 1975 he was Boston’s first punk. In 1989 he was already dead. He lost his life as one of the many artists and musicians who fell victim to AIDS during the 1980s. He was a drug addict, of course, and also obsessed with documenting things just the way they felt. Mark Morrisroe called himself Mark Dirt, probably not just because it allowed him to acquire a certain set of aesthetics and reflected his own ability to find beauty in filth. »Mark was an outlaw on every front—sexually, socially, and artistically. He was marked by his dramatic and violent adolescence as a teenage prostitute with a deep distrust and a fierce sense of his uniqueness.« wrote Nan Goldin, to whose »Boston Group« Morrisroe belonged for several years and in whose post box he once left his excrements as a sign of friendship. Like him, she too searched the shadows for a sign of sparkling splendor.


Mark Morrisroe, “After the Laone (In the Home of a London Rubber Fetishist, Dec 82),” 1982 © Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

Mark Morrisroe was the son of John Waters and Divine, at least that’s what he claimed during his short and rough upbringing until he ran away from home and from that point on presented himself as the son of the infamous mass murderer Albert Henry DeSalvo, better known as the »Boston Strangler.« The one story is just as unbelievable as the other is probable. In contrast, the reality that he gave his cat, Lefty, the leading role in a self-made snuff movie is a matter of fact. The film dealing with the violent death of his pet appeared in a TV program of the subsequently legendary gallery owner Pat Hearn and almost saw her end up jail because she refused to reveal the maker of the film. Later, she was to support him more than any other artist.


Mark Morrisroe, “Self-portrait,” 1982, Privatsammlung Brent Sikkema © Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

Morrisroe joined his ultimate journey as cremated ash in a box, accompanied by his last boyfriend Ramsey McPhillips who was denied the right to take the box onboard a flight to Oregon by the ground staff at the airport. Instead of showing the appropriate death certificate, Ramsay emptied Morrisroe’s mortal remains onto the counter into various plastic tubs: grey-brown dust and a lump of metal, the remains of a bullet which he had been shot in the chest with as a 17-year-old but had failed to kill him and also couldn’t be removed. Finally, Morrisroe was allowed to board the flight and could be buried on his friend’s farm in McMinnville, Oregon. His artistic legacy on the other hand is stored in Switzerland. Under the advocacy of the publisher and art collector Michael Ringier and the curator Beatrix Ruf, his work is being dealt with by the Fotomuseum Winterhur which recently published a publication regarding the 2010/11 exhibition.

Mark Morrisroe, “Dried Arrangement,” 1986 © Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

If Morrisroe were still alive, McPhillips is sure that he would be a huge star today because he longed for fame at all costs. On the 13th of July 1985 he noted in his diary: »I Mark Morrisroe swear to coldly use and manipulate everyone who can help my career no matter how much I hate them. I will pretend that I love them. I will fuck anyone who can help me no matter how aesthetically unpleasing they are to me.« A short time later he was diagnosed with HIV and the second leading role in his life was soon to be played by death itself. The drama of this life between ego, art and illness remains immediately visible in his photos to this day, just like his desire to be utterly unique.

Mark Morrisroe, “Pat as Kiki, fall 81 Paris,” 1985 © Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

Credit >

Mark Morrisroe, ed. Beatrix Ruf und Thomas Seelig. With essays (Germ./Engl.) by Stuart Comer, Lia Gangitano, Teresa Gruber, Elisabeth Lebovici, Fionn Meade, Beatrix Ruf, Thomas Seelig, Frank Wagner and Linda Yablonsky. JRP-Ringier Verlag, Zürich 2010

Mark Morrisroe, “Untitled [self-portrait with Jonathan],” ca. 1978 © Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

Erstes Bild > Mark Morrisroe, “Blow Both of Us, Gail Thacker and Me, Summer 1978,” 1986 © Nachlass Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) im Fotomuseum Winterthur

Text > Marcus Woeller

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