The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver announced Wednesday that it will host a retrospective of art and sound works by Mark Mothersbaugh, founder of the New Wave band Devo.

"Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia," set to open Oct. 31, will be as unusual as the artist himself, filling all three floors at the MCA with a lifetime of Mothersbaugh's inventive creations, everything from musical compositions to multiple sketches of mutants.

Encompassing paintings, prints, photography, rugs, sculpture and odd inventions like an instrument that plays bird calls, the exhibit will include 30,000 informal, postcard-sized drawings that Mothersbaugh, 63, produced during decades of obsessive, mostly private, art-making.

Mark Mothersbaugh DEVO
Mothersbaugh, left, and Adam Lerner curator gathered at the museum on Tuesday, February 5, 2014 as they worked on the layout and flow of the exhibit. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

"A lot of these things, it will be the first time any human other than me ever looked at it," Mothersbaugh said.

The show is being curated by MCA director Adam Lerner, who culled countless binders, books and boxes going back to the 1970s to connect the dots of what he calls the "Devo aesthetic." Mothersbaugh's artistic vision, shaped by his experiences as a student at Kent State University during the infamous 1970 campus shootings, takes on the complicated, often troubling, relationship between humans and machines.

"Mark's work is all about how we can make technology our own," Lerner said.


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That man vs. machine aesthetic was brought into the mass culture in the early 1980s, when Devo went from avant-garde punk band to pop hit maker with the chart-topping song "Whip It." The four-piece rock ensemble, known for wearing yellow haz-mat suits and red, plastic helmets, was as much an art project as it was party band, a mix of dark, social commentary and a sense of humor.

The band's name comes from the idea that human's have entered a stage of de-evolution.

Since Devo's heyday, Mothersbaugh's best-known work has been as a composer of film and TV music. He has written for the "Rugrats" cartoon series and scored major Hollywood projects like "The Royal Tenenbaums" and the upcoming "The Lego Movie."

The MCA exhibit, which will continue through Feb, 15, 2015, is already guaranteed a national run. Six highly regarded museums and galleries have booked it after Denver. An accompanying book will be published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Ray Mark Rinaldi: 303-954-1540, rrinaldi@denverpost.com or twitter.com/rayrinaldi