Square-dancing Roli Polis take the floor at the Akron Art Museum. PHOTO | Michael C. Butz

Mothersbaugh collaboration a work of art for MOCA Cleveland and the Akron Art Museum

By Carlo Wolff

An unprecedented collaboration between the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and the Akron Art Museum spotlights the protean Mark Mothersbaugh, an Akron boy who transcended the poor eyesight he was born with to become a polymath whose artwork spans rock ’n’ roll, rubber stamps, postcards, Victorian lockets bearing warped images, carpeting, video, soundtracks for film, jingles, sculpture and painting.

The Mothersbaugh exhibits, “Myopia,” run through Aug. 28 at both museums. The focus in Cleveland is music. In Akron, it’s graphics. Visit both museums for the whole picture. To get the idea, put the covers of the magazines each institution is handing out side-by-side to turn the halves of a Mothersbaugh drawing into one.

Opening parties in Cleveland May 27 and Akron May 28 preceded the forming of long lines of people eager to look inside Mothersbaugh’s buzzing mind.

The Cleveland party featured instrumental, “classical” Mothersbaugh compositions and a performance by Mothersbaugh. The following afternoon, he and Adam Lerner, who curated these displays, gave a talk at a Summit County Public Library branch. Lerner’s title is director and chief animator, department of fabrications, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, where the Mothersbaugh exhibition originated.

Mothersbaugh’s work packs humor, wit, irony, and often, a sense of despair. It can be both deliriously sensual and bilious, as “Ruby Kusturd,” a giant ruby atop a bronze base on exhibit in Cleveland, suggests. Even as it messes with your mind, it attests to an obsessiveness Mothersbaugh converts to astonishing creativity.

While he may be best known as the founder of the art-punk rock band Devo, Mothersbaugh also is an acclaimed visual artist who commandeers all kinds of media to present a weirdly familiar, weirdly disturbing view of a world pitting promise against peril, the synthetic against the authentic, technology against the organic.

Enter the Mueller Family Gallery at the top of MOCA Cleveland and you’ll see a visual palindrome: a foreshortened silver Scion xB with blackout windows, door handles on doors that can’t be opened, and two “tails.” Naturally, the license plate is “mutatum.”

Go to the Akron Art Museum and you’ll encounter two rooms with figures at rest on artificial grass. One features sinister/funny round-bottomed Roli Polis, painted differently, in apparent conversation and preparing to square dance. Another features what look like molars: three painted fiberglass sculptures that on closer inspection resemble the butts of horses.

Like the shows themselves, the Scion and the “molars” speak to Mothersbaugh’s unity of vision, the notion of duality — and to pause and purposelessness. The Scion isn’t going anywhere, and the molars, as molars should be, seem deeply rooted. CV

On view

WHAT: “Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia”

WHERE: Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 11400 Euclid Ave., Cleveland; Akron Art Museum, 1 S. High St., Akron.

WHEN: Through Aug. 28

TICKETS & INFO: MOCA Cleveland, 216-421-8671 or mocacleveland.org; Akron Art Museum, 330-376-9185 or akronartmuseum.org

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on May 30, 2016.