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Not 'Just A Band,' DEVO Co-Founder's Art Takes Over MCA Denver

Fans of '80s rock know him as the front man of DEVO. Movie buffs know his soundtrack contributions to The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom. Now the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver has something from Mark Mothersbaugh few have – his visual art.

Myopia is the first comprehensive presentation of Mothersbaugh's widely-heard music alongside his little-known art. The retrospective's title comes from Mothersbaugh's own condition, a diagnosis of nearsightedness he got in second grade.

"I always considered myself first and foremost a visual artist and had this ongoing body of work and did gallery shows and only now is it being revealed," Mothersbaughsaid with a lilt in his voice.

As his broader body of work is made manifest patrons will find examples of the DEVO co-founder's drawing, filmmaking painting, sculpture and, of course, music. The exhibit also illuminates the new wave band as much more than five dudes jamming in red plastic hats.

"It was an art project that was multimedia, said MCA DenverDirector Adam Lerner, who conceived the project in collaboration with Mothersbaugh."It was literary, it was film, it was costuming, it was performing. It was never meant to be just a band."

To showcase that, three sections are devoted to the band - born out of Mothersbaugh's and Jerry Casale's reaction to the Kent State massacres which took while students there.

"What we took away from [Kent State] was that the way you change things isn't through rebellion in a capitalistic country," Mothersbaugh recalled. "You change it through influence and subversion and you do it like Burger King does it or Madison Avenue does it."

With his method identified, Mothersbaugh swapped cheeseburgers and haute couture for things he wanted to peddle: music and art. Created and refined over 40 years, his product consumes the entirety of the museum's 27,000 square feet. All of that space is devoted to what director Adam Lerner sees as the importance of exposing the public to the various talents Mothersbaugh possesses.

"In many ways he's working and inspiring people to find their own creative individual voice in a world that's dominated by, sort of, technology, what is dominated by consumerism and mass-production," said Lerner.

As Mothersbaugh has explored his own identity within broader society the result has often been fantastical in nature as filmmaker Wes Anderson, a collaborator and friend, has noted.

"…His work has always been unified and singular," Anderson writes in the exhibit's companion book. "Perhaps a result of the simple fact that it all comes from the same exotic and densely populated alien planet: his Brain."

The product of Mothersbaugh's grey matter is scheduled for more than just a lone stop in Denver. It will tour five additional museums through 2017.

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, RMPBS, and KUVO

A native of Stamford, VT, I call(ed) the Berkshires of western Massachusetts my home. The Berkshires are a culturally rich area -- I’m talking pass the butter and heavy cream -- rich.
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