Zach Feuer Gallery
Mark Flood, WART SCENE USA, 2009; spray paint, acrylic, bubblewrap, cardboard on Coroplast on wood support with attached electric lights; four panels; 48 x 107 inches each
Inscribed, 2009; collage on Coroplast on wood support; 96 x 72 inches; courtesy Zach Feuer Gallery, New York
In his first exhibition at Zach Feuer Gallery, Mark Flood focuses his acerbic wit on a particular art-world neighborhood and, by association, on himself. Entitled Chelsea Whores, the show presents a variety of objects, including pattern paintings, collage constructions that reference paintings, commercial signs stenciled with vulgarities and a map depicting “America’s Coolest Wart Scene.” In this last work, a bubble wrap rendering of the United States with no geographic markings other than three red lights locating New York, Los Angeles and Marfa, we find the artist asking why a select group of people jet coast to coast with an occasional sleepover in Texas. Is it because of the art, or is it the scene?
Flood’s cranky regard for the small-yet-trendy Texas town of Marfa is not surprising given his Houston roots. Perhaps he sees something of a tart in Marfa’s makeover as an art-world Mecca. Either way, much of the artist’s scorn is reserved for his own work, or at least its commodity value. Spray-painted cardboard signs litter the walls, carrying slogans that declare a future intent (or utter disregard) to make “Another Painting,” “2 More Paintings” and “25 Additional Paintings.” Physically, these intentionally shoddy works recall Raphael Rubenstein’s recent explication of “provisional” painting, whereby painters adopt an anti-masterpiece stance in order to sidestep—or critique—untimely connotations such as virtuosity. In their sardonic allusion to pure inventory, the signs also propose that little separates a gas-filled zeppelin from a hot art-world career.
In another series of works, Flood uses collage and digital image manipulation as a boot heel to grind away at the features of several celebrities. Images of flesh are cut and pasted so as to cover the eyes and mouths of the Sex and the City cast. In other works Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric retain their facial organs but in a perversely stretched fashion, suggesting cosmetic procedures gone awry. Flood affixes these images to rough-cut Coroplast, which is then mounted on painting strainers. There is something of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s witty anthropomorphic heads in the constructions: their Dadaesque lampoonery recalls Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann’s description of Arcimboldo’s paintings as “serious jokes.” So aligned, Flood’s portraits resist more obvious comparisons like the photocollage works of John Stezaker or Warhol’s reproductions of Marilyn Monroe. Whereas Stezaker produces psychologically ripe mutations and Warhol releases uncanny grotesquerie using color, Flood defaces. He treats portraiture as one more logo to be defiled.
Chelsea Whores, fortunately, does not always jeer. Also included in the show are six lace paintings—part of an ongoing series begun around ten years ago—that convey a contrapuntal belief in the value of the medium. Upon a monochrome ground, Flood places and then removes pigment-soaked filigree, which consequently functions as both a stencil and delivery system. While the lace may be interpreted satirically when considered within the artist’s Chelsea = whore equation, its adroit repurposing is sincere. The overall effect thrillingly reveals a painter’s secret fetish for duration and process. It also suggests that Flood’s artistic ambition isn’t just to scoff; he also likes to give a damn.
David Duncan is an artist and art historian based in Brooklyn.