Mark Mothersbaugh museum exhibition to reach Santa Monica in 2016


Mark Mothersbaugh’s career as an artist, which dovetails with his longtime gig as frontman of the rock band Devo, has progressed and developed to the point where he’s the subject of a national touring exhibition that kicks off on Halloween at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver and will arrive at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in September 2016.

The eight-city tour had been announced earlier this year but not the dates, other than the Denver premiere.

In tracing the evolution of Mothersbaugh’s music, visual art and ideas, the exhibition, “Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia,” of course disproves the theory of “D-evolution” on which he predicated his career when Devo emerged from Akron, Ohio, in 1978 with its influential debut album, “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!”


Perhaps the most conceptually calculating of American rock bands, at least those with a mass following, Devo set itself apart from other post-punk acts by propounding the theory that humanity was reverting back to its origins among the apes. To illustrate the point, it brought to bear various outlandish totems and characters including the moronic Booji Boy, who’d dance across the stage to the strains of “Mongoloid,” written by Devo’s other main songwriter and conceptualist, Jerry Casale.

Presumably the exhibition curated by Adam Lerner, director of the Denver museum, won’t view Mothersbaugh’s path since the 1970s as a regressive, devolutionary manifestation of the artist’s original manifesto.

But Mothersbaugh -- like the rest of us -- probably deserves the benefit of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s dictum that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

The exhibition’s title refers to Mothersbaugh’s challenged eyesight, which he turned to his and Devo’s advantage by jumping on the Buddy Holly-Roy Orbison-Elvis Costello bandwagon of rockers distinguished by their glasses.

It ranges through time from the 1970s conceptual brainstorming that begat Devo and its geeky iconography (upside-down red flower pots became “energy dome” helmets the band wore onstage), to wired-up 2014 sculptures called “Orchestrions” that play Mothersbaugh’s compositions.

Celebrities extolling Mothersbaugh include film director Wes Anderson, who’s written the forward to a book accompanying the exhibition (Mothersbaugh scored Anderson’s films “Rushmore” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”). Street artist Shepard Fairey contributes an essay titled “Uncontrollable Urge,” also the title of the first track on the first Devo LP.

For Mothersbaugh, a Los Angeles resident who frequently composes for films and television, the 2016 Santa Monica sojourn won’t be his first offering for L.A. museum-goers.

The Museum of Contemporary Art included a Devo installation in its 2010-11 survey exhibition of L.A. artists, “The Artist’s Museum.” Devo’s nook featured monitors showing the band’s music videos and an array of the aforementioned “energy domes” – plastic copies of which remain on sale in MOCA’s online museum store, at $32 for the regular item and $100 for a chapeau autographed by the band members.

Mothersbaugh apparently remains a favorite son back in Ohio, where the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati (in collaboration with the Cincinnati Art Museum) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland will host the show in fall 2015 and summer 2016, respectively. The Akron Art Museum is not on board, but Cleveland is less than an hour’s drive from the city where Devo began to devolve.

The announced tour extends into early 2017, ending in New York City at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery.

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