If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Living in NYC Fucking Rocks! And if you’re looking for cool things to do in the City right now, why not let yourself experience the mind-blowing career retrospective of Mark Mothersbaugh: Lead singer of New Wave / Performance Art legends, DEVO, Composer, Artist and De-Evolutionary Genius. The exhibit is called Myopia, and you can see it at the Grey Gallery at NYU. Let’s a take look at all of the fun surprises that Myopia has in store for you!
In case you were unable to deduce by the exhibit’s title, the art of Mypoia has its roots in Mothersbaugh’s severe visual disability that he has suffered with since birth. The artist’s personal statement greets each visitor at the front of the exhibit, as follows.
“I grew up in Akron, Ohio and I had severe myopia that went undiagnosed until the second grade. My teacher would say things to me like, “Read what is says on the board,” and I’d ask, “What’s a board?” or I’d make a joke because I couldn’t see anything. My teacher disciplined me almost every day.
When my sight issues were finally diagnosed, I was in the car with my dad coming back from getting my first pair of glasses. We came over a hill, and I saw smoke coming out of chimneys. I saw the tops of trees. Before then, I had only known the bottom part – the part that I ran into. I saw the sun for the first time and I just went, “Holy crap!”
I showed up at school with glasses, and I started drawing pictures. My teacher said, “Hey, you draw better than me.’ It was the first time a teacher hadn’t either spanked me or put me in a corner. I knew then that I wanted to be an artist.”
Quite simply, Myopia is all about the truly unique world vision of Mark Motherbaugh. As the song says, it’s a beautiful world.
Kicking off the exhibit is a room-size, whimsical installation called Farewell Arches to Luxembourg City, which is a series of large scale, double-rumped sculptures inspired by My Little Pony toy figurines. The sculptures are part of Mothersbaugh’s Beautiful Mutants series (more about this to come), in which he uses mirrored imagery to critique distinctions between order and mutation. Here, the animal forms’ unnatural symmetry and smooth surfaces reveal their synthetic nature, which is underscored by the artificial grass and bright yellow backdrop.
The exhibit then continues on to explore Mark’s formative days as an art student at Kent State University in Ohio.
One thing you will come to understand later in the exhibit is that Mothersbaugh loves to journal!
Mothersbaugh often manipulated exiting instruments as well as creating devices to generate novel sounds. He used this Calculator / instrument in several live performances with DEVO. An amazing audio installation of his unique created sounds can be found in the Orchestrions Room, which further explores the composers relationship to technology.
Mothersbaugh has long been fascinated with machines, using them as a materiel to be manipulated in creating something new and personal. Working against technology’s tendency to generate predicable results, he alters mass-produced machines and assembles unexpected parts to form new, idiosyncratic hybrids. These unconventional, mutant machines embody his belief that originality arises from imperfection. As with his own myopia, he continually embraces flaws as a countermeasure to society’s tendency toward uniformity
Mothersbaugh’s music-making machines, or Orchestrions, feature discarded organ pipes and bird calls that he has been collecting for years. He first assembles the materials, the adapts his compositions to the quirks of the machine. The Orchestrions are a way to demonstrate his belief that flaws are the key to originality. According to the artist, “the limiting factor gives it something unique. It helps you to not fall into the cliché of twelve keys in a row. You’ve got five black ones and seven white ones that repeat all the way up the keyboard. But if you change something in that pattern, if you break one of those keys off the keyboard so that when you go for an F-sharp and it’s not there, it can force you to rethink how to say what you’re trying to say.”
The Orchestrions play a different composition, an example of which you can hear in the above video, every fifteen minutes or so. Very fun!
On the walls of the Orchestrions room, you will see a series of floor rugs created by Mothersbaugh beginning in 1994. The rug series started after the artist designed an entryway mat for his studio, based on one of his postcard-sized drawings. The versatility and functionality of his rugs demonstrates his interest in nontraditional art forms — especial those associated with consumer culture.
Always exploring new means of production, Mothersbaugh has transferred his rug images into animations, which add elements of drama, spectacle and technology.
If you are mostly interested in Mark’s work with DEVO, Myopia has no shortage of photos, videos, listening stations, props, ephemera and memorabilia on the band from its inception to present.
In its original configuration as a quintet, DEVO included two sets of brothers, Mark and his younger sibling Bob Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale and his younger brother Bob, who died in 2014, and Alan Myers, who passed away in 2013. RIP!
DEVO’s first home video release, The Truth About De-Evolution (1976) plays on an endless loop in the gallery. It includes the music videos for “Jocko Homo” and the band’s classic cover of “Secret Agent Man.”
Don’t forget to head downstairs to the basement where you will discover the wonder of two of Mothersbaugh’s fascinating series of visual artworks: Mirror Images and Beautiful Mutants!
Mothersbaugh first began to use mirror images in his journals of the early 1970s, and he continues to use symmetrical forms in his most recent work.
In 1990, he began work on his most prominent mirror-image pieces, the Beautiful Mutants series of photographs, where he transformed historical and traditional figures into mutants. His interest in mirrors is concurrent with his longtime interest in eyes, which was triggered early on by his own severe myopia.
In a show that is so over-the-top mind blowing, the Beautiful Mutants gallery was my favorite part of the exhibit, and totally unexpected. Be sure to look for the hidden signage leading you downstairs, otherwise you will miss it, and that would be a huge bummer for you! Let’s check out more of these crazy creatures!
Last but not least, be sure to spend some time in the room which holds Mark’s collection of over 30,000 postcard-sized drawings from his visual diaries.
The artist draws on at least one postcard-sized piece of paper every day, a practice that he started decades ago, when DEVO was first out on tour in the 1970s. These small artworks inspire many of his larger projects across different media.
These post cards are all individually filed in protective plastic sheets inside binders for your perusal. These works have never been seen in an exhibition until now.
Mark Mothersbaugh Mypoia Will Be On Exhibit Through July 15, 2017, at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, Located at 100 Washington Square East, (between Waverly Place and Washington Place, Facing Washington Square Park) NYC 10003. Suggested Admission is $5.00. For Hours and Other Information Visit This Link!