Review: “Mark Flood: A Guide for Nude Investors” at Reeves Art + Design, Houston

by Michael Flanagan March 20, 2023
Portrait of Mark Flood

Mark Flood at Reeves Art + Design. Photo: Michael Flanagan.

Mark Flood is sitting on a bench in a room obscured by large white curtains. Outside the room is a painting bearing the words “ADULTS ONLY.” Flood holds court with a few figures from the Houston art world amidst his Virtue Signals series, a collection of pornographic images that have been digitally printed on canvas and painted over. The series is one of several being shown in A Guide for Nude Investors, Flood’s first solo exhibition in Houston since a large-scale survey of his career at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in 2016. It was unclear whether Flood would attend this opening, as he has been known to send surrogates to similar events in the past. But here he is, albeit taking refuge in the “ADULTS ONLY” section of the gallery, where there are markedly fewer people present. 

Installation view of an Adults Only sign hanging in front of a curtain

“A Guide for Nude Investors: Mark Flood” at Reeves Art + Design. Photo: Michael Flanagan.

It’s a lively scene throughout Reeves Art + Design for what has been billed as “[T]he opening of the year.” Lifesize cardboard cutouts of memes called NPCs, or “Non Player Characters,” have been placed throughout the gallery, and attendees are beginning to engage with and rearrange them. I spot a woman in the crowd wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a figure of clustered body parts that Flood has used throughout his career. 

Photo of a woman in a green tshirt in front of a work on paper

Kathleen Boyd with a work by Mark Flood at Reeves Art + Design. Photo: Michael Flanagan.

Kathleen Boyd tells me that she purchased the shirt from Flood in 1991 at a space in Houston called The Eight-O, where the artist was exhibiting work. “He and I were at Rice University together,” Boyd recalls, “and then I worked for Continental Airlines for many years. He was interested in getting a gallery in New York, so I was taking him to New York on buddy passes. And we did a barter on a portrait he did of me.”

Image of the artist standing in front of four prints

Mark Flood with his portraits of Kathleen Boyd, 1992. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Boyd.

Flood’s art came to prominence in the early 2000s when his series of lace paintings caught the attention of the international art world. This success came by design. After having spent most of the 80s and 90s “making ugly art,” Flood was inspired by Dave Hickey’s The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty, to create beautiful paintings that allowed him to bypass “parasitical art bureaucracies.” In a series of diary entries from 2016, Flood explained, “Lace paintings are my attempts to capture beauty, and use it to attract an audience that has little use for critical theories and anti-retinal readymades.”  

Visitors in an exhibition space with large two dimensional works on a white wall

Installation view of “A Guide for Nude Investors.” Photo: Michael Flanagan.

The more than 60 artworks on view in A Guide for Nude Investors vary widely from inkjet prints of digital images to figurative works in acrylic, all executed between 2013-2021. While there are no lace paintings in the show, similarities to them can be seen in the application of paint to Flood’s Dominoes series, paintings that incorporate images of manipulated and magnified corporate logos. A press release shared by the gallery explains, “Their resemblance to abstractions of the Modern era, which we all adore more than our own parents, delighted the artist.”

Large geometric works in blue and black

Mark Flood, “Dominoes paintings,” 2021, at Reeves Art + Design. Photo: Michael Flanagan.

Walking among the various images of violence, sexuality, popular culture, and obscure internet memes, one gets the sense that Flood has found a way to reconcile the “beautiful” and the “ugly” in his art.

Photo of a woman on a surfboard being held by topless men

Mark Flood, “Death Wave,” 2018. Photo: Michael Flanagan.

This reconciliation is perhaps most apparent in Death Wave (2018), wherein the faces of attractive beachgoers from an archival inkjet print of a Pepsi advertisement are obscured by ghostly abstractions and texts painted by Flood. The application of paint in the various details here, as in other similar artworks present in the show, is quite beautiful. While the words “DRINK POISON” set against the bulging eyeballs of strange gray faces might be disturbing, it’s hard not to appreciate the aesthetic value of “DEATH” hovering over the scene, merging subtly into the incandescent ocean background. It’s like Flood has exorcized a demon from the advertisement, revealing its true form and creating something both disturbing and triumphant in the process.

Four two dimensional works of cats driving with speech bubbles above their heads

Mark Flood, “The Cat Paintings,” 2014, at Reeves Art + Design. Photo: Michael Flanagan.

Not all of the work in A Guide for Nude Investors is as straightforward as Death Wave. Around the corner is a series of Cat Paintings featuring “the famous meme of a mean feline driving… with a word balloon added.” At first glance these may seem sophomoric and trite, nothing like the delicate beauty of Flood’s, Trojan Horse (2004), a lace painting in the collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

Gold lace over a pink background

Mark Flood, “Trojan Horse,” 2004, collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

However, these pieces are not lace paintings — they are the “anti-retinal readymades” that Flood warned us about. Originally shown during the 2016 Insider Art Fair, an exhibit of Flood’s paintings satirizing art fair culture, the work’s purpose was “to cover with filth that which poses as scientific sterility, objectivity and cleanliness…” We’re not meant to be pacified or entertained, but instigated and provoked. As it goes with understanding any art, the more research you’re willing to do into the context surrounding Flood’s work, the more it makes sense.

Image of the artist over a large banner

“a poem,” from the “Insider Art Fair Souvenir Survival Guide,” 2014.

Part of any serious research into Flood’s oeuvre should certainly include a look at his output with the experimental punk group Culturcide. They’re best known for Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America, a 1986 LP that features popular music of the era overdubbed with “weird own sounds and new cynical lyrics.” Take, for example, the opening verse of “Star-Spangled Banner”, a reappropriation of the US national anthem: 

Oh, say can you see/in the blinkless electron-gun eye/of the mainstream media mirage//

That what we hail/are the hallucinations of authority/and progress and righteousness//

Whose sweet and stern voices/have captivated and conditioned/millions of human creatures//

Flood has continued to produce experimental audio recordings, often as the soundtrack to promotional videos for his various gallery exhibits. These videos, along with the artist’s many published writings (some in Glasstire), provide valuable insight and function as a sort of artist statement. In fact, one of these videos is literally titled “ARTIST’S STATEMENT.” 

Despite the overwhelming amount of information about his life and work that is already publicly available, I was compelled to ask Flood a few questions about A Guide for Nude Investors. He was kind enough to provide the following answers:

Michael Flanagan: What was the impetus for the NPC cutouts that populate the gallery?

Mark Flood: I like the NPC meme, and I found these standees on eBay a few years ago. I don’t know what the seller thought they were about, but to me they looked like frustrated artists holding up their work. 

I like to have exhibits where the audience is partially artificial. This is the second time I’ve used standees. I thought people would move them around, like they did the LIKE paintings [at my CAMH show], and I was right.

Mark Flood standing next to a large cutout of a human figure

Mark Flood at Reeves Art + Design. Photo: Michael Flanagan.

Flanagan: In an interview with ANP Quarterly from 2009, you referred to your artwork as “research into the way pictures and music control people.” What conclusions have you drawn from your research into the pornographic images used in the “ADULTS ONLY” section of the show?  

Flood: Research into hard-core porn pics was a long while ago, in the collages of the 1980s. In the Virtue Signal series up at Reeves, I worked with scenes from soft-core porn. I prefer pics where there’s no junk visible, because it’s too distracting. 

I’m inspired by the orgy atmosphere. I associate it with the fantasy of pretty people being real about who they are, and what they want. I try to imagine conversations they might have.

Flanagan: The black and white figurative paintings from the exhibit are a bit anomalous — Veronica and The Corner in particular. How do they relate to the rest of the work in the show? 

Flood: Sometimes I like to paint from my imagination. These are the most recent works in the show.

black and white work of a street corner with people walking

Mark Flood, “The Corner,” 2018, at Reeves Art + Design.

Flanagan: You were quoted by Vice in 2016 as “being competitive with Picasso” from a young age. Is that accurate? Some of the figures in these paintings seem to reference Picasso. The face on the bottom left of Death Wave reminds me of Guernica, and there is a red figure on the back of a woman’s head in The Interview that is also reminiscent of his style. What is your relationship to Picasso’s work?

Flood: When I was little, Picasso was in magazines like Time and Life. He was one of the few artists I knew about. So he defined the activity for me, for a while. I like his work but it’s not important to me these days.

Flanagan: The press release for this show was created using Chat GPT. How do you feel about using AI to create artwork? 

Flood: There’s a never-ending roll-out of new technology applicable to making art. The hard part is chasing the audience, which is evolving at the same rate.

a diptych of two frogs

Mark Flood, “Two Bachelor Frogs (Nervous),” 2013. Photo: Michael Flanagan.

Flanagan: I gather that you’re well read on topics including psychology, philosophy, art theory, and history. Going back to the question of your artwork being a form of research, what general conclusions have you made about the current state of human culture and the direction it might be heading? 

Flood: People still hang things on the wall. That’s my compass. Screen art is huge, but it’s trickier for the individual to get paid.

Flanagan: What are you currently working on? You recently told Kaleidoscope that you’re going to retire and focus on selling old work. Is that true?

Flood: I want to spend more time writing.


A Guide for Nude Investors is on view at Reeves Art + Design through Saturday, March 25th. A virtual walkthrough of the exhibit can be viewed here.


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Rainey Knudson March 21, 2023 - 16:55

Some of the best stuff ever on Glasstire:

Franklin James Mayhew March 21, 2023 - 20:10

This art show was cringe. The memes were all old and the printed versions of them were low res but printed really big so that they looked like fuzzy trash with some slapdash paint on top. Someone please don’t let grandpa get on the internet anymore! I felt genuinely disappointed that I had driven all the way to see such a lazy show. The paintings mostly reminded me of the waste-of-canvas paintings that Julian Schnabel was doing 20 years ago. I don’t know if Schnabel was doing them before then, all I know is that I saw one about 20 years ago and at that moment I decided that my life was too precious to waste any time looking at his other ones. Mark Flood is like a punk rocker who is rounding the corner towards 70 but still wears the mohawk and dirty ripped clothing. He had a lot of success when he was younger by selling out and going bubble-gum punk/pop and worries that people won’t recognize him anymore if he changes his clothing and hair style. My advice: stick with your “grandma’s doily” paintings.

Russell Etchen April 5, 2023 - 20:04

LOL u crazy for this one

Franklin Bobby Mayhew March 24, 2023 - 13:09

We all know this is Flood posting as the non-existent “Franklin James Mayhew”.

FRANKLIN JAMES MAYHEW March 26, 2023 - 16:34

Except I’m not Mark Flood but it doesn’t really matter does it? If what I said is true about the work then it’s true. If it’s not true then it’s not. I think it’s true and that’s why I wrote it. The work was lazy. The memes were dated. The show felt unoriginal and stale and the prints were overblown and looked sloppy and unprofessional.


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