Los Angeles

Mark Flores, See This Through, 2009–10, ninety-nine oil-on-canvas panels and one pastel-on-paper drawing, dimensions variable.

Mark Flores, See This Through, 2009–10, ninety-nine oil-on-canvas panels and one pastel-on-paper drawing, dimensions variable.

Mark Flores

Hammer Museum

Mark Flores, See This Through, 2009–10, ninety-nine oil-on-canvas panels and one pastel-on-paper drawing, dimensions variable.

The first things one sees upon entering the Hammer Museum are the ramp leading up to the atrium, and, for the past ten years, just beyond its sleek metal balustrade, the latest temporary site-specific lobby work commissioned by the museum. Since late October, visitors have been confronted by a mural of sorts—a sprawling collection of canvases, big and small, rendered in a variety of styles ranging from Academic Realism to Expressionism to Pop to post-painterly abstraction—by LA-based artist Mark Flores titled See This Through, 2009–10. Some of the work’s ninety-nine paintings are clustered, in places overlapping, and at close range they suggest pattern and decoration. But from afar, when their individual surfaces are viewed all together at once, various motifs nevertheless become visible: stairwells and elevators, entrances and exits, and surveillance cameras—all elements common to the museum’s surroundings.

Two flowers, a massive white bird of paradise and a somewhat smaller blue lily, stand out above all. Like bees in pursuit of pollen, we are naturally drawn to the center of these images, but, routed past the reception desk and up the narrow walkway to access the main galleries, we are also spatially directed to approach them. The architectural conditions of the site cause those using the space—traveling up and down the stairs across the diagonal length of the mural—to view the work up close. Yet to those just stepping in from outside and looking on from a distance, the viewers already inside the lobby appear to be part of the image. It is very quickly evident that the sight of these moving bodies is as integral to Flores’s design as our experience of it while in motion. In turn, the work activates different levels of perception, at once phenomenological and conceptual, as our literal, physical approach to the mural is reiterated figuratively “within” it.

In the seemingly chaotic arrangement of the canvases overall, as well as in their precise photo-realistic rendering of blown-up grain and pixelization, Flores’s mural plays on themes of visual decay. This impression is confirmed about a third of the way through its length by a small flat-screen monitor hung just above an emergency exit. There, a rapid-fire succession of snapshots taken by the artist while walking along nearby Sunset Boulevard reveals the photographic origin of every painted image on view, clueing us in to the context from which they were extracted. For example, we see that the otherwise unremarkable photo of the lily mentioned above was snapped outside the Beverly Hills restroom where pop star George Michael was arrested in 1998 for public indecency.

Flores subjects his source material to various degrees of abstraction, always suggestive of near and far, at times pushing the image to come apart in a field of handpainted benday dots. Invoking the sexual ambivalence of Pop aesthetics, from Lichtenstein’s hetero-fey fastidiousness on one end to the expulsive macho-homo of Rauschenberg on the other, Flores once again strains a “straight guy” set of art-historical standards through a precision-tooled lens for the “queer eye.” Here, though, the effect—of reinvesting the ostensibly disinterested gaze in the techniques of the body (more specifically, in those that depart from the norm)—is at once more surreptitious and performative than in previous works. At every point from far to near, and then across, from the ground floor up toward the landing, our position as viewers is acknowledged by pictures of such things as stairwells and elevators, entrances and exits, street signs and directional supergraphics. When the laws that govern our social mobility are revised for purposes of “cruising,” for instance, so too is the way that we look at art. What do pictures want? They want to be looked at. They want to arrest us. But here in Flores’s mural, we (unlike George Michael) are prompted to resist arrest, encouraged to keep circulating.

Jan Tumlir