New Wave band DEVO and the iconic 'energy dome' hats worn by its members are perhaps the epitome of 80s sprightly extravagance, highly-memorable relics of a highly-specific cultural moment. But both before Whip It entered our cultural lexicon and even after it faded from worldwide radio station play, the band's lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh has had and continues to have incessant creative production in a variety of other mediums. Honoring this somewhat unknown side of one of DEVO's most iconic members, NYU's Grey Art Gallery is hosting a solo exhibition of Mothersbaugh's eclectic range of artworks.
Titled Myopia, a reference to the artist's visual condition present since childhood, the exhibition presents a smattering of technical sculpture, photography, inkjet illustrations, and collage. A few of the works, like this photograph of the band's members saluting in hazmat suits, specifically reference DEVO, but most of what's on view seems detached from Mothersbaugh's popular musical project, highlighting his lesser-known role as a prolific visual artist.
Despite this, there is in fact a deeper conceptual thread connecting DEVO with Myopia. The band's name stems from the world "de-evolution," a concept signifying the "belief that the world is falling apart," according to the show's press release.
"DEVO was born during a time of conflict and change in our culture. De-evolution was simultaneously a joke and a realistic view of life on planet Earth," Mothersbaugh explains to Creators. "It gave us a speaking point, a focus, the idea that 'man devolved from a long line of brain-eating apes' thumbed its nose at both religion and science, and questioned man as the center of the universe. More importantly, it held mankind responsible for losing touch with nature and the planet. It questioned our rampant destruction of Mother Earth, and ridiculed our self-proclaimed importance."
Although the band came up with this concept over 40 years ago, the same idea still runs through Mothersbaugh's art practice today. "As an artist, I continue to employ this concept in my creativity and it allows me a compass to chart my journey. Unfortunately, I think that there is even a stronger case today than when we formed the band, that things are indeed truly devolving," the artist gravely states.
A slightly less apocalyptic and foreboding idea is also present in Myopia. As previously mentioned, Mothersbaugh has had myopic vision since childhood, although it remained undiagnosed during his earliest years. Rather than viewing it as a limitation, he considers his early-onset visual condition as an important foundation for all of his creative endeavors.
"Myopia had a magical effect upon my life, in that it allowed me to exist in a cloudy fog for almost 8 years, before a pair of glasses exposed me to wonders of vision all in a moment," Mothersbaugh states. "It was dramatic and exhilarating; an enormous joy."