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Mark Flood at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

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Mark Flood’s survey at the CAMH is critic proof. When I walked through it I felt like I was sitting at the dinner table with a 14-year-old boy who rolls his eyes at everything anyone says. Just total disdain for the audience. It’s a hateful show. I was occasionally entertained by it, because I’ve always had a thing for punk, but on the whole totally depressed by it. It’s mostly schtick at this point, and that’s a depressing thing for art to be, and to be valued for.

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This local hero of the (local and not-so-local) anti-establishment who’s so happy to burp in the face of collectors and curators doesn’t have many cards to play: that’s clear now. But one card that seems to work for him—the thing he relies on most for this show—is the S&M nature of some art enthusiasts, including some collectors, who pay to have an artist piss in their mouth. This is fun to watch for about 22 seconds before it gets old, and also: you expect the artist must be really young to love doing it. Flood isn’t a spring chicken. We know he’s been punk for a very long time, long past punk’s shelf life. So here’s the problem. I don’t believe him anymore. Does he even believe himself? The survey is a double-edged joke. At whose expense? Bill Arning’s? The unbelievability of the schtick is also a depressing thing for a retrospective to deal with.

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Which in itself is kind of interesting, but probably not for the reasons Flood would like to believe. There is a phenomenon going on here—a social one—and it has less to do with art, or with Flood as an artist, and more to do with the degraded nature of what we accept as entertainment or authority in art. Houston loves Flood for some very sound reasons. He’s been around the block, his unpleasantness is no act, he churns it out, he plays Svengali to other artists, sometimes New York pays attention to him. Flood is a real artist, in a way few in Texas can claim. His rigor is mostly in his longevity.

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But the survey feels lazy, and like an afterthought. I suppose people can show up and marvel at what a bad boy he is, but I liked Flood’s work a lot more before I saw this show. Now I see how limited and stunted the work can feel. I thought his work was smart and sharp and funny. I think at one point it really was. Now it just seems depressed or beyond any measure of cynical. This may be because it’s in an institution, which is the kind of thing he’s always scorned. I don’t know if the museum castrates the work, exactly, but I know that I’d rather not see Johnny Rotten hanging out in Aspen.

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Flood’s obsession with addressing the art market is boring and juvenile. And more: he’s probably not even obsessed with it. He’s just playing at it. Surely he knows that other artists—including most all successful and semi-successful ones—have stared straight into the gaping black maw of capitalism (and the runaway art market) and felt utter despair. And yet they make art. To be disdainful of a market’s absurdity is a fine enough subject for art, but does Flood have to be so flat-footed about it?

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In Flood’s nihilism—his trolling, if you will—there’s no room for the things we associate with art. There’s no inquiry, no interrogation, no negotiation, no possibility. Flood’s work is all branded now, and I think when he came to understand that’s where the money is, he drained himself of any other impulse. And evidently some collectors never ask the hard questions, so the loop closed, and now it’s just a hermetically sealed pornhub clip of an artist pissing in a collector’s mouth, while the rest of us get bored and click to the next video.

The thing is, I don’t think Flood cares. Or I think he would say: I meant for it to turn out this way. I meant to bore and depress you.

Whether that’s true or not.

And so that’s 703 more words than this show asks from me or anyone else.

Mark Flood: Gratest Hits is at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston through Aug. 7

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also by Christina Rees
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31 Responses

  1. Harvey Person

    “There is a phenomenon going on here—a social one—and it has less to do with art, or with Flood as an artist, and more to do with the degraded nature of what we accept as entertainment or authority in art. ”

    Yes. “Art” has become a synonym for any pursuit which is fundamentally lacking in rigor. It was good that the 20th century loosened what constitutes art. It is bad that the 21st century has utterly abandoned rigor, in a misguided search for original thinking. The freedom associated with “anything goes” is wonderful—as is the freedom associated with child-like ways of seeing the world—but art has become lazy.

    The various contemporary art shows I’ve seen across a half-dozen major American cities these past 18 months have reminded me of the type of science projects my young grade-schoolers engage in. It’s fun(ny) when a 6- or 9-year-old says something unscientific because they’re just learning how to investigate the world. (“What if?”) It’s saddening when an adult does it, and intellectually insulting when a (highly educated) curator condones it.

    For a practicing artist trying to figure out what it takes to obtain success—financial, critical, social, personal—the prevailing attitudes of the art world these past few years have become a serious hindrance. Perhaps the next salon des refuses will be led by artists longing to return to more rigorous modes of art criticism.

    Art can still be anything. Aesthetic and curatorial limits are unnecessary. But there is no professionalism without rigor. I’m not sure where art can go from here, when a major show at an important art institution is built around a premise that can be summarized as, “So what?”

  2. I’m hoping and praying that my theory about Donald Trump is correct; that he has just planted himself into the presidential race to destroy the republican party from the inside out. Do you see where I’m going here? I mean how obvious could it be, what Flood, with his-in-your-face, up-your-butt, writing-literally-on-the-walls, is doing? Or so I hope… I met Mark, Perry back then, when he recorded some of his controversial Culturcide material in the studio I owned at the time (circa 1985). It was through his recommendation that I was given my first real exhibition opportunity at Diverse Works. Something to this day I am very grateful to him for. He invited me to his studio and he seemed disappointed when I reluctantly but honestly admitted that I didn’t care for his work, but I always had a strong appreciation and respect for this evil genius who knew how to push people buttons, pie throw a project into the public face and was smarter that most of the other children. I cant say I know if his agenda was much more than another a revolt against the land of the Big Gulp but I’m hoping it evolved into a very skillfully laid out plot which involved subversively working his way into a powerful position in the art world to become the big wake up slap to the establishment: That the art punk/ironic/junk/fuck you revolution should have ended like 30 years ago but didn’t. He’s finally close enough to the emperor now for him to hear: “Hey Emperor! You are fucking buck naked dude!!” Flood is perfectly capable of making great aesthetic art, he has hinted at this with his canvasses that stick out like a sore thumb as aesthetically and subliminally beautiful despite some possible over kill here and there (as another point to be taken in protest, I don’t think he can help it at this point). I want to see his next museum tour with one sloppy, spray painted painting in the middle that says SUCKERS surrounded by gorgeous masterpieces that make far better use of that genius and spur the death of slop postmodernism. Then Perry will be one of the greatest revolutionaries that ever lived in my opinion. And maybe then all of the brothers Flood can retire happily.

    1. Tish S.

      Flood is more like Cruz, another fanatical fundamentalist. Both hostile mansplainers, greedy, needy, arrogant, and just smart enough for, well, Texas. This artist has always been thoughtlessly provocative and profoundly reactionary. It persists. Arning is culpable in important ways too of course. Trolling passive-aggressively behind the cover of the artist is intellectual timidity. Every move inside this show is suspect.

      1. As far as Flood is concerned, he has been following his heart and it has happened to be in the form of reactionary discourse. i don’t see it as a visual art for the most part; its almost entirely verbal as far as my opinion goes. and thats all well and good. i think that institutions and curators with the responsibility of providing the public with examples of the best visual art happening today have been suckered into believing that anti art is the bees knees and that art museums are good venues for dissent. i think they can be to a point . i don’t want to go into it here, but will here (a proper protest venue) yet again if you have the time for my pissy rant:

        http://artbookguy.com/saving-beauty_1022.html

        i have seen bill drooling over lovely and amazing work that he would never show in his museum. its sad but i think he, (another very intelligent and sensitive soul), has fallen into the “only i understand its art” trap i speak of in the curator blaming section.

  3. cathey

    “so the loop closed, and now it’s just a hermetically sealed pornhub clip of an artist pissing in a collector’s mouth, while the rest of us get bored and click to the next video”
    brilliant

  4. Garett Meague

    Flood ive known for about 30 yrs. he’s obsessive more than anyone I’ve ever met about art, even the rich collectors who seem way out of touch if they’re anything. a lot of that show took a lot of work to put together, but he should’ve just dialed it in. who deserves his art here? is handful of super fans in Houston? the assholes that wouldn’t know art if it bit em? this scene shit on him & his creativity for years. you can see the evolution from the early party flyers to the latest word paintings. loved all of it. he should move out of Tx.

    if you listened to his music for about 2 seconds you’d realize they were hovering about 20 miles away from punk doing something completely critical/out there in a way that punk rarely could due to it’s head up the ass bumper sticker unthinking knee jerk formula.

  5. Mynona

    If the author advocates a more thoughtful approach to artmaking, she might consider a more thoughtful approach to artwriting. For instance, I would like to read more about:
    “But the survey feels lazy, and like an afterthought.”
    “Now it [Flood’s art] just seems depressed or beyond any measure of cynical.”
    “I don’t know if the museum castrates the work, exactly”
    I happen to agree, but I can have my own unfounded opinions without having to read someone else’s.

  6. from the Carlo McCormick essay in the forthcoming monograph _Mark Flood: Gratest Hits_

    “His art allows an infinitely expansive space for personal sins and collective transgressions, but whatever pleasure you may take or shame you may earn from it depends wholly on the investment of your own culpability. Anyone who thinks his art is making fun of someone else just needs to take a good long look in the mirror.”

  7. (eye roll)
    Add’ly, two passages by Mark from _Clerk Fluid_ come to mind reading this review
    + you use the word retrospective and survey to describe an exhibition of the artist’s greatest hits—literally, his largest works. Had you taken any time to read the literature or related-press about this show, you would know this going in…
    ———————————————
    Creativity? That’s something you can go to college for nine years to learn. Be careful! It’s potentially a bad habit, like masturbation. It can ruin your life and the lives of those around you unless you learn how to channel it into acceptable forms. Try 1) aestheticized cries of ineffectual protest on the politically correct side of dated and over-simplified social issues 2) Ironic or confessional rehashings of your personal habitrail of popular culture 3) Ugly, boring conceptual crap with long, explanatory labels or 4) tediously detailed, impressively skillful realistic drawings!
    ———————————————
    If you’re not isolated in a tiny prison cell where your meals are delivered by a robot, or being targeted for assassination by rogue federal law enforcement agencies (I’m sorry, was “rogue” redundant?), you’re probably not a revolutionary artist. Thinking you’re too noble, too anti-social, or too underground for galleries may be wishful thinking, which closely resembles you positioning yourself to sell out your alleged integrity five or ten minutes from now. Maybe you should reword your business card. Add some fine print that says you’re a phony, marketing pseudo-rebellion to youngsters still not able to see through your crap, or rich old ex-rebels, sentimental enough not to laugh in your face. A pretentious commercial gallery will be perfect for you, whenever you’re ready.

  8. Angela

    @ RE, had a little too much to drink tonight? Sure seems like it. Maybe you should step away from the Internet, before someone gets embarrassed.

    1. I think you’ve misunderstood my writing for Mark’s.

      The two passages I’m referring to are the paragraphs below the lines.

      But you’re correct in thinking I’ve had too much to drink.

      I’m actually typing this in a cardboard box inside an alley outside a building with free wi-fi.

      Thanks for calling me out. It’s been a real wake-up call for me.

  9. nestor topchy

    What hasn’t been said here is that we’re all better off for even the worst art . There is worse , and better . And sure even better is the best . But it all needs to happen so that some of the frogs survive and not all are not eaten by snakes, lizards, birds, cats or other frogs etc.

    John/Perry/Mark …hoping for an eventual reconciliation between the low ceiling ugly stuff and the more formally involved lace paintings.

    1. Harvey Person

      No Nestor, we are not better off for even the worst art. What a low standard for something which should be considered a profession.

      That’s like saying we’re better off for even the worst science, the worst house mortgage financing, the worst politics, or the worst building codes. (LOL, try using the word “better off” and “Trump” in the same sentence). Bad art is not deadly, but lack of rigor, lack of care, and lack of interest, are all cancerous ideas to a society.

      Those qualities are great for parties, for vacations, for down time, and so one, but not for activities that are supposed to be building social structures, be they aesthetic, conceptual, physical or philosophical. There is no excuse for engaging in a publicly-engaging activity without applying some method to it.

      Also, in response to those comments above in favor of Flood—which are more than welcome, but which are not, interestingly, in favor of this show specifically—no one in the art world seems to care any more when something has been “done before” when that something is not physical and aesthetic.

      If I drip paint on a canvas, I’m a Jackson Pollock wannabe. But if I writhe around naked on a floor in some organic substance, something which artists have been doing for forty or fifty years, then suddenly I’m transgressive and speaking truth to power. Really? How about “been there, done that”? Why does “been there, done that” only apply strictly to visual art?

      Everyone here should take a look at the Dash Snow exhibit named Nest at the Deitch Gallery, back in 2007. As in Hamster’s Nest. Someone tell me, with a straight face, that if Flood were trying to make a haphazard show like a hamster’s nest, that he’s not imitating that work? And is that okay? Would an art critic be praised for giving us a glowing review of an exhibition that was a knock-off of visual work first done in 2007? Or did you want me to go back to the raucous exhibitions that Duchamp and his friends used to create 100 years ago? C’mon already.

      I know that people are chomping at the bit to label opinions like mine as “reactionary” or similar. But I’ve already said above that “everything goes” is a wonderful thing. It’s liberating in so many ways.

      It’s the lack of rigor and careful attention that bothers me. Not just among artists, but among those who set them up for success. You want to make a hamster’s nest? You want to make a surreal mish-mash exhibition? Sorry, it’s been done. Try harder next time. That’s what I’m saying.

      On the other hand, if someone can write a coherent and sensible review that puts Flood’s current work into that tradition, and shows how Flood has somehow added to the literature, then I’ll be more than happy to read it.

      1. Nestor

        Even the most terrible art contains itself within a positive act, one of beauty ,though currently wholy compromised by pluralism and a multiplicity of cults. Art mostly can’t kill anyone even if it can inspire a world of pain in the wrong hands .
        The question of originality is weird . It’s bizarre to think it’s possible to recreate a previous action or condition without the self not being fully present , somehow, having dependent origination any way and equally laughable to claim complete novelty . I’m not convinced the renaissance was all its cracked up to be .
        It’s hard for me to accept the terms , to make the concessions to modernity that defines originality and craft when there is no principle , that I can see , serious enough in a misguided belief in a self that so insubstantially represented because it doesn’t know itself thoroughly enough to be protean.
        We will get some kind of oversteered overcorrection soon, just wait , with a remembrance of draftsmanship, rigor ( intellectual as an answer to zombie formalism) and slow baked execution to counter spray paint junk and big box store found art slap together. But without the prompt from the ditch the vehicle just goes on a center line via cruise control or idles at a stop .

        1. Harvey Person

          Nestor,

          I’m not sure, but your comment about art being compromised by pluralism and a multiplicity of cults might be exactly what I’m accusing this show of representing.

          Flood makes good art. This show however seems more like a party than an exhibition. Is that the “new normal”? Maybe we need to find a different way to present art than a sterile series of wall hangings, but I’m still skeptical.

  10. Clarence Hightower

    As the American comedienne Lily Tomlin once said, “no matter how cynical you get, it’s never enough to keep up….”

  11. WJG

    Tough crowd. In order to learn and having seen the show twice, once on my own and again with Bill Arning, I’d appreciate being told which works and have drawn the anger and why. To the novice, it does seem that the lace paintings are substantively different from the word paintings and deserve separate judgement. Any comment on the FB type LIKE signs and their meaning? The drone stamps have a non-punk message. Sometimes the commentary seems to be more personal than a critique of the art, IMHO.

  12. OTIS IKE

    This reviewer is so pathetic. The great thing at the end of the day is that she is making $10 an hour writing for this blog and Mark Flood is creating jobs for Houston artists and showing his art around the world. I hope this reviewer felt really good about herself for 5 min after she hit send to her publisher. I hope glasstire got some needed clicks. One Mark Flood painting is worth more then 5 years of glasstire fundraiser auctions. OTIS IKE

    1. Seriously, that is your response to the review? Mark Flood is a NICE guy who helps Houston artists, plus he’s rich, so how dare you criticize his art exhibit?

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