Flood could’ve been blacklisted from the same art world that helped him become one of Texas’s most successful artists. The lifelong Houstonian once created a mutilated likeness of Julio Iglesias, which became a centerpiece of NYC’s Lower East Side bar-cum-art gallery Max Fish Bar. More recently, the 59-year-old artist produced and directed a full-length mock-a-thon that “reveals the comic grotesqueries of the art fair phenomena,” according to Bill Arning, director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
“He’s done all of these things that should’ve gotten him banned from the art world and it works for him,” says Arning. “It’s so rock and roll to me, and I just love that.”
Mark Flood: Gratest Hits is a comprehensive look at Flood’s career over the past 35 years. “I called it Gratest Hits because it’s more of a grab-bag term,” says Flood in his heavily accented East Texas drawl. “And it can also grate on your nerves.” That’s intentional. “I’ve always liked art that has an underlying ‘f*** you’ theme,” says Flood. “Great art speaks truths that people don’t want to hear. Great art trashes the past and opens the way to the future. Great art is always a problem.”
Instead of a historical sequence of artworks hung side-by-side, Flood is using CAMH’s wide-open architecture to construct a massive zigzag of bolted-together corporate-logo mutilations and text-based paintings, forming a kind of free-standing sculpture that “will be installed in such a way that you’ll walk in and see the totality of what he has achieved over the last few decades all at once,” says Arning, who curated the show. “It’s going to be a kapow moment.”
The exhibition includes Flood’s abstract lace paintings on canvas. His breakthrough in the 2000s started with this series of technical masterpieces, each layered with decorative lace, that have sold for up to $200,000 apiece. And as he’s done in the past, Flood will mass-produce 5,000 Facebook LIKE paintings for the CAMH show, a sardonic commentary on his love-hate relationship with social media. Visitors can grab a painting from the mini-mountain of works and manipulate it (dancing with it or wearing it or, of course, posing with it on social media).
Visitors can also pop into hidden spaces throughout the museum and listen to recordings by Culturcide, the politicized (now legendary) Houston punk band that Flood fronted in the 1980s, which informs both his artwork and the CAMH show. “We do see artworks become like hit records… you can’t go to an R.E.M. concert and not hear ‘Losing My Religion.’ You can’t go to a Mark Flood show and not see a great lace painting or one of the Eat Human Flesh paintings or one of the celebrity mash-ups,” says Arning. “This is the greatest hits record, but it’s a big greatest hits. It’s the two- or three- CD compilation.”
Arning hopes that visitors to the exhibition, which will also include two screenings of Flood’s Art Fair Fever, see that the artist isn’t just a prankster. “There’s a great thinking mind behind the artwork and an incredibly sophisticated ethical position that manages to be really fun,” Arning says, “but also makes a point and reminds me of why we all got involved with art to begin with. I see him as a rebel philosopher in the art world.”
Mark Flood: Gratest Hits, through Aug 7. Free. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Blvd. 713-284-8250, camh.org.