At Irvine Fine Arts, Mothersbaugh Is Edgy, But Taussig Truly Goes to the Edge
At Irvine Fine Arts, Mark Mothersbaugh’s huggable paranoia is amusing enough, but Arthur Taussig’s photography is truly edgy
For more than 30 years, Mark Mothersbaugh, lead singer of the performance art/new wave band Devo, has kept contact with his family and friends by sending them illustrated post cards. This personal reinvention of the illuminated manuscript is a bit of an obsession, a daily habit that has resulted in as many as 25 pieces of art per day. The artist gave Irvine Fine Arts Center curator Matt May free rein to sort through those hundreds of images, and May has selected a handful, along with several new full-sized paintings (some of which are larger versions of the post cards), a video loop and even a few rugs for the Center’s new exhibition, “Postcard Diaries: WE MUST REPEAT.”
Mothersbaugh’s obsessive doodling was never meant to be seen by the public and, as with anything spilling out of the subconscious, there are a few surprises, but overall, the work is less about the id than it is slight, easy-to-access art with an “edge,” ideal for the type of people who never listened to Devo’s pop miserabilist lyrics or engaged its ideas, but dug the danceable beat.
Having made a career out of misanthropy and nascent apocalypse, it’s no surprise Mothersbaugh’s “huggable paranoia” (a term aptly coined by my friend Greg) features canvases of hooded jihadists flying rickety planes in kamikaze formation (Aero Fundamentalist Right Flank and Left Flank); that he’s still working out those ’80s no-nukes issues with mutated beings interacting with creepy authority figures (Mexican Soap Opera); that sex rears its ugly head (Digital Parallax Yoni); and that sci-fi technology (robots) is present in more than a few pictures.
Whether those anxious images reveal real inner turmoil or are just a pose is open to question, but they’re images as familiar as the X-ray glasses, bodybuilding and Sea Monkey ads in the back of an old comic book. They’re hipster-retro tastelessness, in the same “ironic” vein as Shag’s tiki prints—looting the past without having anything to say about it (or the present), recycling disposable ideas while marketing them for your enjoyment.
Like those comics filed in white boxes in your closet, you’ll forget them as soon as they’re out of your sight.
If Mothersbaugh’s queasy cool isn’t your cup of tea, step into the other gallery down the hallway from the front desk and take a gander at photographer Arthur Taussig’s superb “Postcards From the Edges of America.”
Taussig braved the junk-culture museums of America so you don’t have to, reportedly shooting more than 15,000 images, some 60 of which are displayed here, unframed but neatly stuck on the white walls, like posters in the bedroom of an anal-retentive teenager.
Revealing a sharp eye for the real-life weird and wonderful, the photographer’s framing and composition are sterling, with an obvious intelligence and humor behind every picture. He could reasonably be taken to task for an exhibition that could be subtitled Smirking at the Rubes In a Paradise of Trash, but I found it impossible not to smirk—hell, I even laughed out loud—at what the world looked like through his eyes: the chintzy plastic plants bookending a full-length painting of Mary Kay in all of her pinkness; a T. Rex preparing to wreak havoc on Main Street; a disgusting little diorama with cockroaches playing the roles of Lorena and John Wayne Bobbit, complete with tiny knife; a wall at the Dukes of Hazzard museum with Denver Pyle’s Uncle Jesse a God-like face surrounded by clouds; World War II Mickey Mouse gas masks for children; the stiff, rigor-mortis bodies of Cabbage Patch Kids sitting in a cafeteria display or “sleeping” in incubators; bezoars from the stomachs of pigs; the cheerful, colorful cartoon-character faces of Pez dispensers; the crotch bulge of a Liberace mannequin; and, sweetly, the photographer himself reflected in glass, taking a picture of a taxidermied deer head and a plush deer toy.
Taussig presents a sardonic peek into the mindset of Middle America, where situation comedies and crappy toys speak to their fans in the same way some of us are touched by a Van Gogh or a Bernini. That great cultural divide—of education, spirituality, aesthetics, pop culture and class (in our supposedly classless society)—is a bottomless, soul-sucking pit, and he vividly captures it. That the pictures are both a mirror and a bemused what the fuck? is an added bonus, so feel free to take a step back from the edge and smile as you watch the world go to hell in its tacky polyester handbasket.
“Postcard Diaries: WE MUST REPEAT” and “Postcards From the Edges of America” at Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave., Irvine, (949) 724-6880. Open Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Through July 25. Free.
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