Yoko Ono

yes yoko ono



The Japan Society press release

Yes Yoko Ono, the first American retrospective of the work of pioneering avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, opens at Japan Society Gallery on October 18, 2000 and runs through January 14, 2001. In her prolific 40-year career Ono has embraced a wide range of media, defying traditional boundaries and creating new forms of artistic expression. The exhibition features approximately 150 works from 1960 to the present, with a focus on her early period, and includes objects and installations; language works, such as instruction pieces and scores; film and video; music; and performance art.

After its premiere in New York, YES travels to several venues in the United States, including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; the MIT-LIST Visual Arts Center, Cambridge; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and elsewhere in North America through 2002. The exhibition offers the first comprehensive re-evaluation of Ono's work, exploring her position within the postwar international avant-garde, and her critical and influential role in originating forms of avant-garde art, music, film and performance. YES examines her early and central role in Fluxus, an avant-garde movement that developed in New York in the early 1960s; her important contributions to Conceptual Art in New York, London and Tokyo; her concerts; experimental films; vocal recordings; public art, including works made with John Lennon; and recent works, including interactive installations and site-specific art. Such avant-garde figures as John Cage, George Maciunas, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, Andy Warhol and Ornette Coleman collaborated with Ono, and work from these collaborations is also represented. Accompanying the exhibition will be the book YES Yoko Ono, the first major art publication surveying Ono's artistic career, co-published by Japan Society and Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

A musical CD of new works by the artist will be included, prior to its general release. "Yoko Ono's contribution is not specific to any genre; rather, it is her capacity to make forms beyond and between genres - to crossover from high to low, underground to pop - that distinguishes her extraordinary creation," says Alexandra Munroe, Director of Japan Society Gallery and exhibition curator. "Her use of chance and minimalism, and her investigation of everyday life have played a key role in the transmission of Asian thought to the international art world." The exhibition title, YES Yoko Ono, refers to the interactive object known as Ceiling Painting, an important work shown at Ono's historic 1966 Indica Gallery show in London. The viewer is invited to climb a white ladder, where, at the top, a magnifying glass, attached by a chain, hangs from a frame on the ceiling. The viewer uses the reading glass to discover a block letter "instruction" beneath the framed sheet of glass - it says "YES."

It was through this work that Ono met her future husband and longtime collaborator, John Lennon. Born in Tokyo in 1933 into a prominent banking family, part of Japan's social and intellectual elite, Ono received rigorous training in classical music, German lieder and Italian opera. She attended an exclusive school where her schoolmates included Japan's present emperor, Akihito, and Yukio Mishima, destined to become a world-renowned novelist who committed ritual seppuku to protest Japan's Westernization. Ono, raised partly in America, witnessed Japan's devastation in World War II, and by the time she entered Gakushuin University in 1952 as its first female philosophy student, she was swept up by the intellectual climate of the post-war Japanese avant-garde. This movement was characterized by a spirit of rebellion against all orthodoxy, a yearning for individual self-expression, and a desire for spiritual freedom in a landscape reduced to absolute nothingness by the ravages of warfare. Disillusioned with academic philosophy, Ono left Japan to join her family in New York, where her father was an executive of the Bank of Tokyo, America. Attending Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, she soon gravitated to the vibrant art community of lower Manhattan. At the time, non-Western cultures, especially those of China and Japan, were inspiring new forms of artistic expression. Ono was welcomed as a representative of that Eastern sensibility that found beauty and art in everyday existence and chance events, and favored artistic expression and thought through interactive participation.

A loose association of these artists was eventually formed under the name of Fluxus. The group experimented with mixing poetry, music and the visual arts, through a wide spectrum of activities including concerts and exhibitions. As a member of Fluxus Ono presented her early works, launching a career that would take her back to Japan, where she became an active member of the Tokyo avant-garde, and again to New York, and then to London, where the 1966 Indica Gallery show, that included Ceiling Painting, took place. In the decades since the Indica Gallery show, Ono has continued to enlarge the boundaries of her art in diverse media. After her marriage to John Lennon in 1969, she collaborated with him on a number of projects in music, creating a bridge between avant-garde and rock in such releases as Unfinished Music: Two Virgins (1968), Wedding Album (1969), and Double Fantasy (1980). Their happenings, Bed-ins for Peace, and the billboard campaign, War Is Over! If You Want It, were landmark projects created to promote world peace, a continuing theme in their work together.

During the 1980s, influenced by the rampant materialism of the decade, Ono revisited some of her 1960s objects, transforming works that were originally light and transparent into bronze, symbolizing a shift from what she calls "the Sixties sky" to the new "age of commodity and solidity." In the 1990s Ono's prolific output of interactive installations, site-specific works, Internet projects, concerts and recordings have been widely represented in numerous venues across Europe, America, Japan and Australia


The exhibition is divided into five chronological and thematic sections:

I - GRAPEFRUIT: EARLY INSTRUCTIONS

This opening section includes conceptual paintings, works on paper and printed matter produced from roughly 1960 through the publication of Ono's celebrated 1964 anthology Grapefruit. Ono's early work with the Fluxus movement in New York is featured, as well as her interaction with the Tokyo avant-garde during her residence there from 1962-1964. Central to this section is the series Instructions for Painting, a provocative set of written directions for "paintings to be constructed in your head." The works in the series are among the first examples of pure language standing in for the material of art. Using ephemera, humor and viewer participation, this series was crucial in the development of Ono's art, and significant in establishing the Fluxus and Conceptual Art movements internationally.

II - HALF-A-WIND: EARLY OBJECTS

Ono's early objects are assembled here as a group. They include works made of common "found" materials, often displayed with a linguistic element, juxtaposed in a way that combines intellectual wit, whimsy and paradox. This section also features all the remaining elements of Ono's Half-a-Room installation from her Half-a-Wind show at London's Lisson Gallery in 1967. Documentary photographs and publications trace Ono's subversive relationship with the official art establishment and its notions of "art as a commodity."

III - FLY: EVENTS, PERFORMANCES, FILMS

Enlarged documentary photographs and a video display are used to present images of Ono's early concert and performance work from 1961, when she presented Grapefruit in the World of Park at Carnegie Recital Hall, with performers including David Tudor, Richard Maxfield and Yvonne Rainer. Original sound recordings present Ono's extraordinary use of vocal techniques - what Lennon called her 16-track voice - acclaimed by such musicians as Ornette Coleman, David Bowie and, more recently, Cyndi Lauper and the B52s. This section also features continuous projections of Ono's 1966-1970 experimental films, including No. 4 (Bottoms), Film No. 5 (Smile) and Fly.

IV - WAR IS OVER!: THE PEACE MOVEMENT & OTHER COLLABORATIONS WITH JOHN LENNON

Ono's belief in the ability of the mind to alter reality through a change in perception translated into a form of antiwar activism entailing organized acts of "wishing." During the height of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, much of her work with John Lennon used media to effect mass mind power towards the visualization of world peace. This section includes documentary photographs and films of Ono and Lennon's numerous happenings and media campaigns staged for world peace.

V - PLAY IT BY TRUST: RECENT WORK

In 1988 Ono began a series in which she cast some of her 1960s objects in bronze. The transformation of works, originally light, transparent and ephemeral, into solid bronze reflects a fundamental shift in her cultural sensibilities, from the ethereal to the material. This section includes some early works juxtaposed with the later bronzes. It also includes Cleaning Piece and Wish Tree, both interactive installations that invite audience participation, and a large-scale version of her all-white chess set, Play It By Trust.

The exhibition curator is modern Japanese art historian, Alexandra Munroe, in consultation with Fluxus scholar Jon Hendricks. Munroe, Director of Japan Society Gallery, is recognized internationally for her publications and landmark exhibitions in the emerging field of modern Asian art, notably, Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky seen at the Guggenheim Museum of Art in 1994. Jon Hendricks, curator of The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, Detroit, is renowned for his catalogue raisonne Fluxus Codex (Abrams, 1988). He has worked as Yoko Ono's curator and archivist since 1989 and has contributed to several important exhibitions of Ono's work.

The accompanying book - a fully illustrated 350-page catalogue, available in bookstores nationwide in early October - features an introductory essay by Munroe exploring Ono's life, her relationship to international avant-garde movements in America and Japan, and aspects of her art and thought that have guided her prolific production over four decades. Hendricks' study of Yoko Ono and Fluxus offers insights into her contributions to one of the most radical collectives in the history of modern art. The catalogue includes essays by Murray Sayle, David A. Ross and Jann S. Wenner that enrich the understanding of Yoko Ono's complex role as one of the most enduring public figures and artists of our age. Leading scholars from America, Europe and Japan also offer comprehensive descriptions of Ono's work in six major areas of artistic production: Scores and Instructions; Early Objects; Events and Performances; Advertisements; Films and Video; and Music. A section of Ono's installation work of the 1990s includes writings by six internationally acclaimed curators. The book also contains an anthology of the artist's writings, an illustrated chronology and an extensive bibliography.

A CD of new recordings by Ono will be issued and included in the catalogue.


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