In 1971 Yoko Ono placed an advert in the New York Times announcing her exhibition, a one-woman show, at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In her catalogue for the show, she was depicted standing in-front of MoMA, its logo prominent in the foreground, but just before the “A” there was a drop in the sign causing one to look down to see Ono standing, holding a bag with the letter “F” on it. The Museum of Modern Fart was the not-so-accidental title of this fake exhibition that was supposedly based on a jar of flies released in the air by Ono, their journey documented by a photographer. When visitors arrived at MoMA, however, they would see the advert taped to the ticket window, underneath reading in Ono’s handwriting, “this is not here.”
Moving to New York City in 1953, Ono established a relationship with gallery owner George Maciunas of Fluxus, where Ono later held her first solo exhibition. Only five people attended, including John Cage. Although the trial, tribulations and controversies that surrounded Ono after she married John Lennon, Ono relentlessly pursued her creativity.
Her art can mostly be described as avant-garde, spanning over mediums including paper, installations, performance, audio and film. Her piece Painting To Be Stepped On (1960-1961) sees a canvas coloured with water paints and acrylic, lain on the floor, viewers invited to – as the name suggests – step on it. This comes from her instructional art book, Grapefruit (1964) where the concept is explained simply:
PAINTING TO BE STEPPED ON
Leave a piece of canvas or finished painting on the floor or in the street.
With these instructions, her art – in general – can therefore exist everywhere.
Bag Piece (1964) is another interactive piece where visitors are invited to step inside a black bag and do what they will. For some, perhaps this piece offers a moment to revel in the work of the avant-garde enthusiast and a chance to experience the creative process of Ono. For others, perhaps an opportunity for them to engage in performance art, entering from one perspective (Ono’s) but the longer time that is spent in the bag, the more time they have to develop their own purpose for being in the bag.
Throughout Ono’s career, it seemed that the main descriptor that she was frequently associated with was ‘John Lennon’s wife’. The two were renowned for their collaborations through music, performance art and peace campaigning. Their famous bed-in saw them protest within their hotel room in Amsterdam, inviting the press in an aim to share their anti-war sentiments. Ono’s and Lennon’s posters, WAR IS OVER – (If You Want It)added yet another dimension to the couple’s activism. “…what we’re trying to promote is an awareness in people of how much power they have, and not to rely on the government, or leaders, or teachers so much that they’re all passive or automatons,” said Lennon in 1969. In 2015 Ono was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Observer Ethical Awards for her activism spanning over half a century.
“People’s reactions to my work aren’t necessarily important—it’s fine if they have different opinions. If their response is good, then I feel good, but what I create has to do more with myself. When I express myself, I feel free,” wrote Ono in her book An Invisible Flower. But Ono has paved her own road now, a number of retrospectives are being held all over the world. From New York to Mexico, and now for the first time in France at Museé d’art contemporain de Lyon (MAC Lyon), visitors will have the opportunity to view and experience Ono’s work throughout her career. Yoko Ono: Lumière de l’aube, promises to be another exciting instalment for Ono’s memorable and unique works spanning 3,000m2 of artworks to see, hear and interact with from 1952 to 2016.
This post first appeared on fluoro. © HM Group (Aus) Pty Ltd 2015
Read the ensuing interview between fluoro and curator at MACLyon Thierry Raspail.
Featured image by Jon Rubin/FlickrCC