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Ed Flood

Time Out Chicago's Lauren Weinberg reviews Constructions at Corbett vs. Dempsey.

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Ed Flood never achieved the recognition enjoyed by Ed Paschke or Karl Wirsum, with whom he exhibited in the 1960s at the Hyde Park Art Center, showing work that thumbed its nose at the art-world establishment. And that’s a shame, given the fun, ingenious sculptures in “Constructions: boxes and works on paper 1967–1973,” Corbett vs. Dempsey’s retrospective of the little-known Imagist’s early career.

 

Ed Flood never achieved the recognition enjoyed by Ed Paschke or Karl Wirsum, with whom he exhibited in the 1960s at the Hyde Park Art Center, showing work that thumbed its nose at the art-world establishment. And that’s a shame, given the fun, ingenious sculptures in “Constructions: boxes and works on paper 1967–1973,” Corbett vs. Dempsey’s retrospective of the little-known Imagist’s early career.

Flood (1944–85), a Chicago native and SAIC graduate, was directly influenced by Joseph Cornell, whose sculptures he saw at the Art Institute, according to gallery codirector John Corbett. Only a few of his vitrines incorporate found objects, however. Inspired by the reverse-painting experiments of Imagists including Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson, Flood fills his constructions with multiple layers of Plexiglas decorated with cheerful, reverse-painted images of palm trees, abstract symbols and sexy ladies. The results have more in common with pinball machines than the Surrealists.

Flood’s sculptures are as dynamic as artworks with no moving parts can be. The leaves and trunks of the painted palm trees in Zero Dead Hero (1970) seem to occupy three-dimensional space, swaying toward the viewer as well as from side to side. Splashes of blue, green and violet overlap in South Pacific (1971), recalling a 19th-century stage set of the sea in both their artifice and their resemblance to real waves.

Flood’s cartoonish paradises have more verve than his late abstract constructions, which presage the next stage of his career. Soon after moving to New York in 1972, Flood stopped making his vitrines. While he had a few shows, his work “never really caught on,” Corbett says. After an early death, the artist fell into obscurity.

The 23 pieces in “Constructions” offer a fine introduction to Flood’s unique body of work. A humorous sculpture of Flood by Red Grooms, whom the artist assisted on Grooms’s film “Tappy Toes”—also on view in the gallery—and a wooden box made by Flood’s friend H.C. Westermann illustrate the closeness of his relationships with other artists important to the Chicago scene. But the dearth of biographical information about Flood, even in the catalog, leaves us wondering what’s behind his constructions’ shiny surfaces.

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