UPPER EAST SIDE — The grotesquely adulterated faces of David Lee Roth, Barry Manilow and Billy Idol are among the pop culture remnants from the 1980s hanging in the new show of the Houston-based artist Mark Flood at the upscale art gallery Luxemboug & Dayan.
Flood's fame has always been more obscure than the celebrities his art picks apart. As the show’s curator, Alison Gingeras pointed out in a catalogue essay, Flood has occupied the role of an “artist’s artist” — a “protected insider’s secret” for those who knew his work or his punk band Culturcide — since the 1970s.
But now the secret is out, as his a survey of his work from the 1980s, called “The Hateful Years,” has taken over the gallery’s East 77th Street townhouse and will remain on display through September 12.
When someone sent Gingeras images of Flood's work a year ago, she said, "I freaked out. 'This needs to be a show,'" she remembered thinking. "All of this work existed in warehouses or in books, but no one had seen the work."
Flood insisted he is not, however, looking for a positive critical reception to his work, and said he has largely remained outside of the "art bureaucracy."
"I don't really care if people understand what I do. I just like to use it for my own purposes," he said at a press preview this week. "I don't like art that's a lesson or some kind of gruel at an orphanage. I like art that hits you in your gut."
His "Hateful Years" work transforms images of teen idols like Kirk Cameron and Michael J. Fox. He takes commercial products like Newport cigarettes or Tide detergent and strips them of their identities. He takes thrift-store bought paintings and transforms them with small interventions of his hand. He spray paints perverse commandments, like "masturbate often," on large canvases.
The show also features work from a more recent chapter of his art career: pretty-looking lace paintings that have been a commercial hit and have led some to criticize Flood for "selling out."
"If I could have calculated selling out, it would have happened in 1979," Flood joked, explaining that his lace paintings still were "hateful" and had a "f--- you to the art bureaucracy quality."
Flood told the New York Times he only recently has been able to quit his day job and live off his art — which has been a surprise to him.
"After decades of failure, I did not expect to be successful," he said at the press preview, adding, "The art is more important to me than what sells."
Though Flood has been known to avoid his own openings and send surrogates in his place, he was in New York this week at the gallery promoting the show.
Still, on the gallery’s top floor — taken over by a 1980's a mise-en-scene — a bearded man reading an old Enquirer atop a bed covered in Star Wars sheets was asked if he was part of the show. He responded, “I’m Mark Flood," while the real Mark Flood stood a few floors downstairs.
Mark Flood's "The Hateful Years" is on view through Sept. 12 at Luxembourg & Dayan, 64 E. 77th St.