Notes on Mark Flood’s Big Dick
Mark Flood, “First Song,” 2014. Photo by Tom Dubrock.
Mark Flood could be considered, at this point in his career, to be a man of mythological proportions. His self-proclaimed “infamous” namesake has flown from the lips of so many gallerists, ardent art collectors and young men alike, it’s as though it were an infectious disease. Most people laughably refer to this phenomenon as Mark Flood Fever. This pandemic has made it’s way (consciously or not) into the hearts of the “edgy” curatorial staff of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. The museum has a long track record of giving nearly full creative liberty to the artists as per their use of the space. In classic Flood-hubris form, he allegedly wanted the whole museum to himself. There was no doubt among anyone that he had enough work to fill three museums. The CAMH had to decline, although reluctantly.
How Flood has remained so uncannily prolific in the past several years is no mystery. He has a team of 7 to 10 full-time assistants (almost all of whom are mid-career white male painters) on hand to crank out his numerous absurd demands, all while he languidly spoofs everything within arm’s reach. One such crack — one of Gratest Hits‘ greatest hits — is “5,000 Likes.” The considerable mound of “Like” paintings are there for any viewer who so wishes to participate in Flood’s distortion of the already murky hierarchy by picking up any one of the 11″ x 17″ cheaply-manufactured canvasses and distributing them anywhere in the exhibition, as if in an “IRL” Facebook scenario. Things like this displacement of conventional museum authority, along with the lowbrow aesthetics of the exhibition, seem to give Flood excessive pleasure.
Nestled in one of Flood’s largest ‘painting walls’ are several towering paintings which contain short and overarching declarations on the unsavory politics of museum exchange, such as a nearly 20-foot-high work made of four vertically-stacked panels. It reads, from top to bottom: “WHORE MUSEUMS,” “GUTLESS COLLECTORS,” “BLIND DEALERS,” “ALLEGED ARTISTS.” This painting wall is the most concise presentation of his signature form, which is to make a series of vague, disparaging and disconnected remarks about how easily the sheeple — especially his audience — can be mislead. This means his language and posturing are reminiscent of an anonymous post on an internet forum. He seems to be under the impression that everyone has been tricked except for him and the literal inundation of lazily stenciled commentary concerning “the masses” only reinforces this contrivance. He has not undertaken relaying any clear stance on the hysteria governing art fair ethics, but gets right to his point, which is evidently that he should be considered a national treasure for having the ability to deceive and shame his benefactors. (In a 2014 interview with Art in America, Flood discusses his plans for his Insider Art Fair of the same year: “I thought it would be remarkable to drag one [painting] on a rope around and around the circular track of my fair, while groups of persons, representing collectors, crawl desperately after it on their hands and knees.”) This doesn’t stop a significant portion of Houston’s once-diverse art scene from regarding him as their gluttonous Messiah. They use him as a reference point, even sometimes stylistically, in the hopes that they, too, can implement his artifices: make a profusion of mediocre but “daring” paintings and give the mirage of inflexibility to all their foolish little rich patrons.
If any ideas at all shine through in this anarchic and self-destructive show, it would boil down to a 30-year-long adherence to his attempt at audacious art practices, which has been outlined almost entirely by a misguided oversimplification of the art world’s jurisprudence.
Mark Flood: Gratest Hits will be on view at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston through August 7.