FREE VERSE: Forget “Whip It”

My earliest memory of Mark Mothersbaugh was from Devo’s music video for the popular song, “Whip It.” The eccentric video frightened and confused me even into my teens, and led me to dismiss Mothersbaugh, Devo’s frontman, as a wacky pop 1980s nut job without the slightest idea of nuanced artistic expression.

For those unacquainted with said “Whip It” video, describing its plot accurately would be my greatest writing challenge. Just understand that summarizing it as featuring a group of drunk cowboys watch Mothersbaugh whip the clothing off of a mannequin-esque woman while an older lady looks out of a window disapprovingly and does her own whipping (of a bowl of cream), wouldn’t even give justice to the oddity of the thing.

So it was only until recently, when Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art held an exhibition of Mothersbaugh’s work titled Myopia, that my perception of him changed.

His artistic choices…were made thoughtfully.

The exhibition explained Devo’s artistic choices in a way that I could fully appreciate. The “Whip It”-esque humor wasn’t a plot to blend in with the ridiculousness of 1980s pop like I had thought. Rather, it was a statement against popular culture, as the name Devo comes from the concept of the de-evolution of society.

His artistic choices, even the goofy red plastic energy dome hats that Devo donned in the “Whip It” video, were made thoughtfully and purposefully.

Moreover, his work at Myopia displayed his incredible versatility with his creative endeavors. His projects ranged from giant wind-instruments to manipulated old photographs to thousands of postcards with individual images on one side and personalized messages on the other.

Really, Mothersbaugh had a more firm grasp on nuanced artistry than I ever could have imagined. His massive collection of work is interwoven and complicated with alter-egos, an obsession with duality, and a work-ethic that puts most artists to shame.

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