Yoko Ono

my mommy was beautiful


By Matthew B.,Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2002

Shoshana Wayne is one of several galleries in a complex that looks like a film studio. It took a little while to find the right gallery, but as soon as my friend Chris and I spotted it, we walked right in. It was the opening day of the exhibit - a beautiful day in Southern California - and Yoko was due to arrive a few hours after we did.

I'll describe the pieces and my thoughts about them in the order I saw them.


(1) FROM MY WINDOW: The Ring, 2002.

This is a series of four canvases replicating the back cover of Season of Glass. In each canvas the park and sky are altered to reflect a season. For instance, in the autumn canvas the trees are retouched in autumn colors. In the winter canvas, the stars and galaxies of the grey picture sleeve of "Walking on Thin Ice" were somehow superimposed on the sky, to look like falling snow.

As I viewed these canvases, I realized how cross-referential Yoko's music and art are to each other. Just as many of her early songs (e.g. "O'Wind," "Mindtrain," "Kite Song," "Winter Song," "Yang Yang," etc.) recalled themes from her earlier art and poetry, so does her recent art refer to her past songs and albums. Even the title, "From My Window," is reminiscent of "Looking Over From My Hotel Window."

Main Gallery

(2) FROM MY WINDOW: Rising (b), 2002

Another meditation about process, using the back cover of Season of Glass. A suite of five canvases, each one dimmer and darker than the previous one. The last one is virtually black, showing only the vaguest outlines of window, park and skyline.

Is "Rising" here synonymous with "fading to black"? Does it refer to a nuclear explosion that will blacken the earth? Or is it a metaphor of death - the ultimate "blackout"?

With each of these "From My Window" suites, it was possible to buy the canvases individually or as a set. For instance, each painting of "Rising (b)" was available for US$10,000, or $40,000 for all five. Since the canvases were interrelated - each one part of a thematic progression - I thought this was funny. Would anyone buy the black canvas on its own?

(3) Vertical Memory, 1997, $84,000

21 framed Iris prints (identical photographic composites of the faces of Ono's father, John Lennon, and, though I couldn't recognize it, Sean Lennon), with a different caption under each one.

When I first heard about this series - that it was a string of identical photographs displayed in horizontal progression - I thought the title "Vertical Memory" was just an ironic joke. But I think I now see where the "vertical" part comes in. In many of the captions, Yoko refers to "looking up" into the eyes of male authority figures - "Doctor I," "Doctor II," "Father," "Stranger," "Teacher," etc. The final captions involve her on her death bed, both before and after death, looking up at a priest, a doctor, and the attendant who disposes of her body. The final question she asks herself before fading into oblivion is, "What percentage of my life did I take lying down?" Reminiscent of the FLY film, isn't it? I loved this piece. I found it interesting that no males she voluntarily loved and nurtured were included. There were no "Husband" or "Son" captions, for instance. Her father is mentioned, not as a love object but as a stranger she meets for the first time at the age of two-and-a-half. About seven of the 21 captions are labeled "Artist I," "Artist II," "Artist III," etc., with no further text. Maybe her husband(s), lovers and son are included in that category.



(4) My Mommy Was Beautiful, 1997, $10,000 each

13 color images, 8 identical breasts and 5 identical vulvas.

This ensemble seems to be the female counterpart to Vertical Memory. The viewer must literally "look up" at the images. But instead of looking up at unfamiliar or threatening male faces, we see the primal beauty and familiarity of our mother's body.

It was interesting that these images were in warm, natural colors, while the male face in Vertical Memory was blurred, artificial, and black-and-white.


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My Mommy Was Beautiful by Yoko Ono (detail)

© Sari Gurney
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