Mark Mothersbaugh "Myopia" @ Grey Art Gallery, NYU
Ever so rarely, the incessant tyranny of redundancy and cliché that suffocates popular music gets disrupted by something truly creative: music made by people who are just too weird and original to sound like anything else. Such was certainly the case when a bunch of art schoolers, steeped in post-structuralism and the aftermath of the slaughter of fellow students at Kent State University in Ohio, got together in the early ’70s to share their outré obsessions and iconoclastic ideas in a band. Born of cold war anxieties, teenage angst, social anger and a heavy dose of art, Devo was an impossible combination of esoteric intellectualism and ridiculous stupidity, a testament to the collapse of industrialism and the American dream written like the Futurist manifesto as intoned by one of those really crazy street people.
If Devo, short for a complex and absurd theory on de-evolution, was America’s quintessential art band, its lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh has always been far more of an artist than the rock star that fate cast upon him. Consistently with Mothersbaugh, there has been the sense that, far from some hobby pursuit, for him, art-making has been the most acute aesthetic tool, something beyond the decades-long chores of a band, closer to and more articulate than his soundtrack work as a solo artist of quirky-banal “Muzik” recordings, a legendary career in soundtracks for video games, kid shows like Rugrats and Pee Wee’s Playhouse and movies—most notably for Wes Anderson’s films.
NYU’s Grey Art Gallery in New York City, a campus museum that continues to be one of the most inventive curatorial programs of its kind in the country, with shows about the Mission School and the brilliant Inventing Downtown to note, plays host now to Mothersbaugh. Myopia puts the curious visual marginalia of this bespectacled star front and center. From the whimsically eccentric drawings Mark would send out as postcards while on tour, through numerous sustained bodies of work he’s taken time to produce over the years, his uncanny admixture of the mundane and mutant has circled around a kind of carnie freak show Americana in which our vision of consensus normalcy is a funhouse mirror for our psychic deformation, a great society on the verge of some atavistic regression. —Carlo McCormick
Mark Mothersbaugh’s Myopia at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery will be on view through July 15, 2017.