During the 1980s, Houston-based Mark Flood worked in relative obscurity, creating violent and frequently pornographic artworks which express an antipathy toward commercial culture that is perhaps best summed up by the name he gave his experimental punk band at the time: Culturcide. Works from this period include paintings ridiculing corporate media brainwashing, collages in which the faces of celebrities have been morbidly reassembled into tumored caricatures, and sculptures created from defaced household products, which recall Warhol’s Brillo boxes but express a sentiment antithetical to the late Pop-art icon's exaltation of the commodity.
Then, in the early ’90s, fed up with the art world, and inspired by Dave Hickey’s remarks about beauty as a means for constructing viewing experiences unsanctioned by establishment mandates, Flood began making his so-called lace paintings: large canvases that exploit the seductiveness of fraying, finely wrought fabric. Ironically, these works helped catapult the irreverent artist to a level of recognition whereby, at the age of 55, he can get away with titling a solo show “ARTSTAR,” as he did for his recent exhibition at Zach Feuer. The show, his third at the gallery, opened during his sprawling retrospective at New York’s Luxembourg & Dayan, titled “The Hateful Years,” providing viewers with a comprehensive look at his work from the ’80s as well as a selection of recent lace paintings.
Flood seems eager to prove that fame and fortune haven’t mitigated his distaste for the art world. The centerpiece at Feuer was a 16-foot-tall column of stenciled canvases, which, in descending order, read: WHORE MUSEUMS, GUTLESS COLLECTORS, BLIND DEALERS and ALLEGED ARTIST. Lest we mistakenly assume that this list pretty much covers the entirety of what Flood contemptuously refers to in interviews as the contemporary “art bureaucracy,” the self-styled hater also made sure to thumb his nose at such institutional mainstays as Artforum and Yale University as well as anyone who discusses Banksy.
It’s mildly gratifying to partake of the leveling disdain Flood exhibits in glibly reducing the art world to a multi- million-dollar circle jerk. Unfortunately, many of the works on view—like other hastily spray-painted, invective-bearing canvases the artist has created of late—are so formulaic as to appear in line with their ostensible objects of scorn. Few pieces in the show are as worthy of their viewer’s time as any one of the handful of 1960s Batman comics—a calling card of Flood’s in recent years—that were scattered on a coffee table at the center of the gallery.
The exceptions, however, are notable. Flood’s new stripped-down, black-and-white lace paintings graciously depart from the tired slacker esthetic of the stencil works. And a video featuring animated, computer-voiced versions of the numerous critical “experts” on Bravo’s reality show “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist”—Bill Powers, Jerry Saltz and Sarah Jessica Parker among them—skewers the art world as a slavish consensus factory. Granted, the television program, which showcases artists competing in an “American Idol”-type setting, is an obvious target. But Flood goes to town on it like a kid at a piñata party. An outrageously extended analogy likening the experience of looking at an imaginary contestant’s artwork (presumably Flood’s own) to rubbing one’s genitals against a filthy toilet is nothing short of virtuosic. Indeed, with this puerile but also highly cathartic video, Flood proves he still has some hate left in him that hasn’t been traded for lazy provocations and dollar bills.
Photo: View of Mark Flood’s exhibition “ARTSTAR,” showing Endless Column, 2012, acrylic and paper on canvas, 16 feet tall; at Zach Feuer.