From Jocko Homo to Pee-wee's Playhouse: it's a beautiful world

Whether you are viewing this on a Samsung Galaxy phone or a 27-inch iMac, the screen is simply not big enough to convey the impact of Myopia, the summer's quintessential cultural event spanning from University Circle to downtown Akron.
Myopia, which includes a vast array of Mark Mothersbaugh's work dating back to the 1970s, launched last month. And while Fresh Water wholly appreciates managing photographer Bob Perkoski's visual documentation, this staggering collection truly must be viewed in person and in scale, from the army of eerily oversized (or are they undersized?) "Roly Polys" that occupy an entire gallery at the Akron Museum of Art (AMA), to the copious collection of media documenting the work and creative efforts of DEVO, of which Mothersbaugh was a co-founder, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA).

Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia, "Mutatum" Scion
Myopia is a wholly immersive experience. Words matter herein, as do the size and colors of things and their relation to one another. Mutatum, for instance, is an unusual Scion (yes, the car) installed at MOCA that you will at once adore and pity. It's unlikely cousins in Akron, a trio of works each named My Little Pony, are weirdly friendly despite being headless. Some viewers saw push-you/pull-me animals (sorry Dr. Doolittle); others saw giant molars. Beholder's conclusions notwithstanding, every object in this show has an unexpected point of view.
Stepping through Myopia, the overarching revelation that "Jocko Homo" and Pee-wee's Playhouse are stalwartly tethered makes perfect sense. Discovering all the rest of Mothersbaugh's artistic surprises is just plain fun. Add to that the striking colors and larger than life graphics at both museums and Myopia is a perfect family event, particularly if mom or dad is a closet DEVO nerd.
But what about the man behind the Booji Boy mask?
Just ahead of the show's opening, MOCA hosted a tour and event that included previews of the installations in both museums and bus rides in between. It also included Mothersbaugh.

Roly Polys - part of the Myopia exhibit at the Akron Art Museum
You have all summer to view the show in person, but if you want to get an idea of the Akron native's creative genius that is intentionally scaled to the screen before you, spend a few minutes poking around his Mutato Muzak page, which is credited to Funkhaus, but is wall-to-wall Mothersbaugh. Go if only to see what happens to your cursor on the home page, but Fresh Water suggests you stay for the Listerine, interactive Necco-wafer colored keyboard and Gene Hackman. Also: Jesus meets Mr. Potato Head with an Energy Dome? We've got that.
Funny, charming, and completely engaging with a surprise around every corner, the site gives a telling if insufficient glimpse of the man fueling it all, as Mothersbaugh was that and so much more during the May 25 preview event. Consider this: when Steve Presser of Big Fun fished out a pack of candy cigarettes from a paper sack, Mothersbaugh immediately plucked one from the tiny cardboard box and did not set it down for the rest of the day.

"If I burn anybody with my candy cigarette, I'm sorry," he offered preemptively.

Mark Mothersbaugh at MOCA Cleveland

Mothersbaugh infused the event with an unmistakable energy that will no doubt linger throughout both sets of galleries north and south until Myopia leaves us on August 29. He regaled the group with stories about his art and DEVO in both museums and for the entire ride from Cleveland to Akron, fielding any number of questions. For example:
Q: What are your musical influences?
A: (pauses to consider) Auto insurance, traffic jams, rent payments, the news, TV commercials for sure because they're so subversive and they make people do things they shouldn't do and it just amazes me.
I don't know. I like a lot of stuff.
Ruby Kustard sculptureThen there was his description of the sculpture Ruby Kustard, which is crafted from a 33,000-carat ruby and polished bronze, "What am I going to do with the world's largest ruby?" he recalled when he first considered it. "I'm going to carve it into a turd."

The following assertion came during a lull on the bus ride, "Akron is over 50 years old, by the way, if anyone didn't know," which was followed by a comments regarding the fair Akronites. "They're a very friendly people and the best way to reflect your friendship is to pin some money to your shirt."

It's probably best to let Mothersbaugh speak for himself. And while the following clip is safe for work, it does include Brian Eno and a little nudity.

Mark Mothersbaugh on the Magical Myopia Bus Tour from Cleveland to Akron

And the story behind the DEVO uniforms:

Booji Boy mask, far left, on display at MOCA Cleveland

He also gave background on his elaborate Orchestrions, which may be the only objects you will ever hear that can burp elegantly - an assertion you may deem true or false when you hear one at the end of this clip:

Doorbell Keyboard created by Mark Mothersbaugh on display at MOCA Cleveland

Towards the end of the day, Mothersbaugh stepped into the AMA gallery housing 30,000 postcards the artist has created over the years, which visitors are free to explore.

"My secret brain has been exposed," said Mothersbaugh, adding that sharing the cards was a bit uncomfortable at the first Myopia show in Denver, but that the idea has grown on him. "I'm almost totally accepting of it," he said to the small gathering. "It was the trip I had to take to get here today."
Then someone asked about his family.
"My father died two days ago," said Mothersbaugh. "And I really wanted him to see this show. I just so much did, because he was so supportive my whole life … so supportive and he was enthusiastic," he said, noting that his father portrayed the iconic DEVO character Booji Boy's father, General Boy.
"He was part of us."
After a beat filled with exhales and murmurs of "sorry" deflated into silence, Mothersbaugh shrugged and smiled. "Yeah, so … yeah," with an easy inflection that diffused the moment and made the small group in the gallery chuckle and grin.
And in that bittersweet moment, it truly was a beautiful world.

On June 18 and again on August 20, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., MOCA will offer a Magical Myopia Bus Tour to the public, $20 for members and $30 for non-members. The adventure begins at MOCA with a guided tour of the exhibition. Then a bus ride with a few surprises will transport attendees to the AMA for a second guided tour. The ticket includes museum admissions, lunch, and round-trip bus transportation. Contact Ruth Haggerty at 216-658-6918 for tickets.
On June 16 at 6:30 p.m., the AMA will host a trolley tour that will visit DEVO related venues such as the Crypt nightclub, an old rubber stamp shop at Quaker Square, and Harlan Hall, the band's secret Akron headquarters. $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Tickets are available online.
For those on a budget, admission is free at MOCA for all visitors on the first Saturday of the month, courtesy of PNC Bank, and the J. M. Smucker Company sponsors Free Thursdays every week at the AMA.

MOCA is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.