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Rugs During Wartime And Peacetime:The Rug Art of Mark Mothersbaugh

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Occasionally it doesn’t totally suck to work my weekend job on the Westside. Especially if there are art openings going on. I got to use that: “Well, I’m in the neighborhood anyway.” excuse last Saturday night. After a “hearty” Krishna carbo load at Govinda’s Restaurant, I and fellow art crawler, MXL, hit Mark Mothersbaugh’s Rugs During Wartime and Peacetime exhibition cum warehouse sale at the Scion gallery in Culver City. (Yep, that Mark Mothersbaugh, co-founder of the band, Devo.)

SCION. No matter how cool, it creeps me out when large companies own galleries. I know, I know, corporations own lots of museums, but it seems like just by being there I am somehow being indoctrinated into buying a big shiny car with a debatable name. Scion…hmmnn, do the Templars own the company???

Yet, Scion Installation Los Angeles Gallery, tucked at the end of a quiet residential street, is a pretty cool art space. They are known for their quirky, look to the cyber-future sort of design shows. You know, the anime, hip trip enviro that all the kids who are hooked up to ipod-phonograph-camera-phasers inhabit.

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As the title says, it was a showing of rugs. Actually, according to the press release, it was supposed to be “ exploration of the imagery we choose to bring into our homes and how we interact with it for the purposes of comfort and peace-of-mind rather than an esoteric sense of art for art’s sake.” Wheet! Wheet! Wheet! Trite alert. Sure, gallery statements are horrid as a rule, but did they have to go and mention “art for art’s sake.” Cliché, touché, toupee, oy veh!


The thought of an art exhibition of the utilitarian might seem silly to some. A rug is a rug. It’s for walking on, for keeping bare feet off of the floorboards, for hiding the dirt you just swept up or it’s merely interior design—strictly house wares.

Nevertheless, the decorative has ever been reinterpreted as art with a capital A. The floor mosaics that so amused the rich Romans, Navajo rugs, Persian carpets, Tibetan prayer rugs: all of these things were initially utilitarian. I don’t think any of those cultures thought about somebody in the future hanging a bit of flooring on the wall of the MET and proclaiming it as an aesthetic tour de force for tour de force’s sake.

Still, as humans we all appreciate and prize cool looking shite. Especially if it’s in our house and thus, proves to the neighbors that we have more money than they. The so-called decorative arts gave birth to art forms that are something more than just the thing we wipe our muddy boots on or at least that’s the idea. So I say: Embrace the silly.

The opening was a lot like going to buy designer rugs, except they had a DJ. The space was brightly lit, the atmosphere cheerful and earnest. Mat sized pop art rugs were on the floor. Their larger area rug counterparts hung on the walls or on the kind of hanging stands that rugs in a store are hung on. You know, the ones you can turn like a poster rack? Some of the mats were piled up and it looked like it was okay to touch them, but my museum training forbade me. One Westside mommy allowed her toddler to pull at the raised nap of one of the more expensive wool and silk pieces. I had to restrain myself. Anyhoo, patterns and illos repeated in big and small. Some worked well as doormats. Others were more impressive in the larger 4’ x 6’ size. Everything was bright or light or boldly contrasting in hue: the comic book panels of the Bizarro World.

Mothersbaugh’s art is ever Devo. It’s oddball, nutty, cheerfully disturbing, even at its most crass. Humor and peril are evident in many designs, yet they are so very cozy and palatable. The sinister or unsettling is so darn cute that we must eat it with a spork. Insidiousness is funno and yummo! Oh, and for the fans, the usual Devolutionary icons are scattered throughout: block heads, robots, flowerpot hats, “Are we not men?” slogans, etc.

The works were loosely divided into Rugs of War, which only vaguely referenced war and Rugs of Peace, which again, might have been rugs of any mood except they were made of wool and silk and were vaguely more “designer.” There were other things: porcelain wares and a cuckoo clock inspired by Black Forest design. I didn’t pay much attention to them, surrounded as we were by those colorful cartoon panels.


Quirky Devo-esque electronica made for appropriate incidental music. Free beer and chardonnay was served by (gasp) nice people. Everyone seemed very unassuming and approachable, which was refreshing. No Fah-Fah-Fah gallery or showroom tude. Thankfully, the cast of Project Runway was nowhere in sight.

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MXL and I examined the rugs with interest: sipping the vino, pointing to the ones we liked best, chuckling at the artist’s commentary full of friendly fun facts about carpets (some of them even truthful!). We were impressed by the FREE color brochure that resembled a governmental pamphlet. Those things are not cheap to be giving away. (Hush!--evil corporate, Skull and Bones $$--Shhh!) Considering it all, the price of the rugs was pretty darned reasonable. Only $275.00 for the doormat size. Heck, you could even get a postcard of an image to take home for a quarter. Easily consumable kitsch, in more ways than one!

Several photographers kept circling us and snapping our pictures. Although it happens a lot when my artist pal and I go to shows, it was unnerving. I looked around and did not see a lot of other people getting snapped. Perhaps our well-seasoned scruffiness conveys a certain quality, whatever that might be: OLD maybe? I wonder where all these mysterious photo ops end up? No doubt lost in cyber space.

Mr. Mothersbaugh was there of course: a mop of gray hair, teensy pale eyes behind coke bottle glasses, a bit plumper (as are we all), smiling and chatting in a red plaid cotton shirt. He seemed chipper and why shouldn’t he be? The price list said that 100 percent of the sales went directly to the artist. So, what’s not to be happy about? This fact was a bit of a stunner. How the heck did he pull that off. Last time I checked galleries want (and always get) their cut. Is there some secret Scion/Templar/Devolutionary triumvirate? We must all bow down to MM’s magical prowess. Carpet merchant, my eye!

Here’s a couple more random thingees about the event. They had the requisite trendy photo booth, which we avoided. Everyone’s butt looks fat standing in a photo booth. Besides, we were getting snapped enough. The gallery has an outdoor smoking lounge with a bar and nice long couches. Comfy for lounging. There was also a store area with MM prints, books and other rugs, in which we forgot to go. DOH!

In the back on one wall was what looked to be a private collection of JFK commemorative tapestries. They were all semi-collaged together and some were quite old. There was no explanation about them but I assume it was from the artist’s own collection of weirdness. Comparing the mutated JFK heads was fun. Sometimes he looked like Robert Redford. Sometimes he looked like a potato, if you know what I mean.

Now back to the art. Mothersbaugh’s shtick for this show is reproducing his weird-ass, quirky imagery as Wartime and Peacetime themes and then further sub classifying them as "Booby Trapping rugs", "Friendly Fireside rugs", "Carpet Bomba rugs" and so forth. The brochure explains it in typical tongue-firmly-in-cheekiness. But why a clown toy holding on to the tail of a pig toy with WO! stenciled next to them is an example of an “Interrogation carpet” is anybody’s guess. Still, it gives me ideas.

The images that promote this show are the beautifully patterned Goldfish V2, the not-so-interesting Wah-Hmm, and Duo Worm, which I've seen elsewhere in sculptural form. Duo reminds me of that old Uriah Heep album cover, but much more friendly. I could see it in the foyer of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

MXL’s (whose own art is rather Mothersbaughsian) favorite piece was Bulbous Politico Gets a Hand. It was a large male hand cupping the bottom of a doll sized, Tweedledum figure against a lime green background. He also liked Kiss Me, which depicts two male heads drawn in red and purple on bright mustard. One that is cropped from the nose up sports a bow tie that spells “Kiss Me.” The other, just a head with the initial P, leers at the tie. Ahem, nuff said.

I was fascinated by the cuteness of Fingerbot and the Boy: a blue block head robot with a finger for a face that points toward a kewpie headed boy who reaches his own inquisitive finger up—very God and man and Michelangelo, tee hee!. I also liked Pink Meatball, which looked like a floating ganglion cyst with eyeballs and WIPE!: a black on white drawing of a man’s torso with his guts spilling out. “Wipe!” was written in big red letters. Perfect for a bathmat!

I’m not sure if I would buy one of these rugs and hang it on the wall. Then again, I’m not sure if I’d put it on the floor and step on it, which is what the artist would probably like us all to do, considering the durability of the nylon and wool in question. I think if I owned one, I’d hang it as art; then lay on the floor with my feet up and run my toes through it.

This show runs until December 1st. So, it's not too late to buy your own!
Scion Installation L.A.Gallery
3521 Helms Ave. in Culver City
Wed-Sat, 11am.-6pm.

Photos courtesy of Scion Installation L.A.Gallery