99% of the time, Yoko Ono is a subject that just takes too long to talk about. Whether you love her or hate her, few would deny that Ono is one of the more polarizing Pop Culture figures of the past fifty years. Most people likely know her as John Lennon’s second wife, as well as his primary post-Beatles artistic/musical partner, and have probably based their opinion on the couple’s various collaborations — which are quite well known. But before Yoko Ono even met John Lennon, she was a groundbreaking visual artist whose extremely unique and original ideas about what constitutes a viable work of ‘Art’ were fucking with people’s heads. Just being serious.
I first visited Yoko Ono’s One Woman Show 1960 – 1971 at MOMA way back in May, and it’s taken me this long to write about it because I had no idea of how to distill the experience. While I am not at all a fan of Yoko Ono’s music (more about that later), I’ve been conflicted over my intense desire to make hilarious jokes about certain works that I saw in this exhibit, and an equally strong urge to find many aspects of her artistic output not only brilliant, but wildly thought-provoking. The exhibit is only up for another month at this point, so I’m going to post a selection of photos I took at MOMA of various works that caught my attention for whatever reasons, and make comments about them.
One of the highlights of the exhibit is Yoko’s book of artwork concepts, which is called Grapefruit. Grapefruit is a book comprising over 150 distinct artworks. One of the preliminary editions of the book is displayed at One Woman Show in its entirety. The instructions for each work range from the possible to the improbable, often relying on the viewer’s imagination to complete the work. For example, Earth Piece (1963) asks the viewer to “listen to the sound of the earth turning,” whereas Line Piece to La Monte Young I (1964) gives a more literal instruction: “Draw a line. Erase line.”
During the year leading up to the publication of Grapefruit, Ono created this manuscript of 151 typewritten texts with handwritten ink additions, each one transcribed onto the back of a postcard. She then mailed the postcards from Japan to George Maciunas in New York, who hoped to publish her collected works as a Fluxus Edition (Ono ultimately self published the volume in 1964). Many of the artworks presented in this exhibition are based on instructions from this Grapefruit typescript.
Here are a few random pages of Grapefruit from the exhibit:
These works may seem absurd and silly, but consider the fact that she had to think of all of these different, mostly abstract ideas, fully conceptualize them, and then write them down. And that’s kind of intense and impressive, I think.
There are 150 of these ideas and you can read them all! It is pretty crazy.
This photo is from Yoko’s 1964 performance work, Bag Piece, where essentially she is on stage inside a bag. It is considered to be a revolutionary work of performance art. Also, it is a joke that writes itself. Art!
This spiral staircase is part of a new work which was created just for this show, called To See The Sky. To participate in the work, you climb up to the top of the staircase — which is a bit wobbly, and only one person is allowed on it at a time. Some people were actually afraid to climb it, but I had no such issues.
You can see that the staircase goes up pretty high.
I took this photo when I was almost at the top. You can see my friend Jamie looking up and waving at me. Hi Jamie!
When you get to the top of the staircase, you look up, and you See The Sky. Art!
This piece is called Three Spoons, but you can see there are four spoons.
This piece is called Ceiling Painting, which is famous for being the artwork that convinced John Lennon that Yoko was the woman for him. What you are meant do is climb to the top of the ladder, stand fully upright on it, and use the magnifying glass to read what is printed on the canvas, which is mounted to the ceiling. Of course, there no way the museum will allow random visitors to do this, because personal injury lawsuits, but I will just tell you now that the canvas is printed with word, “Yes.”
In 1970, Yoko made a short film of a fly crawling on a man’s face.
The exhibit also features a separate gallery inside of a soundproof (thank god) room, where you can look through memorabilia from Yoko’s “musical venture,” the Plastic Ono Band. In this room, you can have your eardrums excoriated by sounds that cannot accurately be described. No me gusta.
This White Chess Set is the most straightforward piece in the entire exhibit.
Half-A-Room is a group of domestic objects cut in half and mostly painted white. The installation was part of Ono’s 1967 exhibition, Yoko Ono Half-A-Wind Show, at the Lisson Gallery in London.
The exhibition was the first to include a collaborative work made by Ono and John Lennon, Air Bottles (1967, pictured above). That work came about when Ono told Lennon about this ‘half’ idea that she had for the show. He responded, “Why don’t you put the other half in these bottles,” and thus Air Bottles was conceived as the installation’s counterpoint.
This is the first occasion in which Half-A-Room is exhibited as it was originally displayed, installed directly on the gallery floor.
Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971 may not be everybody’s Bag (see what did there), but if you’ve got an open mind and a pretty broad taste for contemporary art, you may find that Yoko’s art changes your perspective a bit. And you know that can’t be bad.
Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971 will be on Exhibit Through September 7th, 2015 at the Museum of Modern Art, Located at 11 West 53rd Street, Between 5th and 6th Avenues, in NYC.