---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 03 Nov 2002 13:40:48 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Give Yoko a chance
Give Yoko a chance
By John Tanasychuk
November 2 2002
How do you separate Yoko Ono, the celebrity widow of John Lennon, from Yoko
Ono the artist?
In theater, it's called a willing suspension of disbelief. And it's what
anyone planning a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami
might have to do to understand "Yes Yoko Ono," her first American
retrospective of more than 150 works from the early 1960s to the present.
Forget the pop star, and you soon realize that what MoCA has on display is
an exhibition of ideas. The first piece viewers see is called Play It by
Trust. The two all-white chess sets remove the element of competition.
Without an opponent, the game of strategy must become a game of cooperation.
Ono's work is all about big ideas meant to create change.
With more than 40 years of art-making behind her, critics now see her place
in the evolution of art and have torn apart her life for clues to her
Born to a wealthy banking family in Tokyo, Ono grew up partly in the United
States, but spent most of World War II in Japan, often moving to the
country when bombing was particularly brutal. Her peace activism, to name
just one theme that runs through her work, comes from experience.
Her multimedia approachpoetry, film, music, sculpture, installationsoften
confounded critics. But she is now seen as prefiguring such art forms as
installation art, feminist art, public art, performance art and conceptual art.
The celebrity Ono was definitely on display last week when MoCA held a
four-hour media preview. There was an exhibition tour with MoCA director
Bonnie Clearwater and the show's curators, Alexandra Munroe of the Japan
Society Gallery, and Jon Hendricks, Ono's personal curator and archivist
Ono, accompanied by two assistants, arrived in a black Mercedes sedan with
black tinted windows for a press conference in North Miami's City Hall
Photos of Ono could only be taken at the press conference and "photo
opportunity," which followed back in the museum.
At 69, Ono looks a good 20 years younger. She walks three to six miles
every day and says she quit chain-smoking about five years ago.
In person, she's equal parts flower child, rock ^A'n' roll chick and
Asked at the press conference if her 40-year-old work still resonated, Ono
said: "I just saw that full moon three days ago and it looked like the full
moon I saw when I was 5."
Ono was famousin rarified art circles, at leastlong before she met Lennon
at a 1966 exhibition of her work in London. Lennon is said to have climbed
the ladder in her famous sculptural work called Ceiling Painting (Yes
Painting). At the top of the ladder, he picked up the magnifying glass to
see what was printed on the ceiling. What he saw was the word "YES." Ono's
optimism is said to have enchanted him. They were married in 1969 and until
Lennon's tragic murder in 1980, it seemed we heard little of Ono's art and
lots about their famous partnership.
But that partnership, according to the exhibition, produced some of Ono's
most provocative work.
"What she was doing was hiding in full sight," says MoCA's Clearwater.
There was the famous 1969 Bed-In for Peace, where the couple simply sat in
bed as a weeklong media event. That same Christmas, Ono and Lennon launched
a Christmas peace campaign in the middle of the Vietnam War. Massive
billboards"War is Over! If You Want It"were placed in urban settings around
the world, including Times Square, Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and the
Shaftsbury area of London.
Asked if her marriage overshadowed her art, Ono says: "I think that for an
artist, the most important thing is when your creativity has been injured
in some way, and it hasn't been."
If fact, Ono credits Lennon with rescuing her early work from storage.
While Ono is no doubt a sophisticated and shrewd businesswoman, her work is
mostly simple, free of the irony and cynicism seen in much conceptual work.
Instead, says Clearwater, it encourages the viewer's participation both
physically and in the imagination. It seeks to create a higher level of
consciousness that can be carried back into the world.
The most obvious example is her 1971 Amaze, a 16-foot square Plexiglas
maze. "A viewer goes through the maze and experiences many different
feelings," says Clearwater. "First, there's a certain boldness that this is
going to be easy. Then there's a sense of disorientation and even perhaps
panic that you might be getting lost. And then there's a sense of relief
when you exit it. So you've gone through all of these different feelings
when you're in it."
Amaze, like much of her work, hardly looks like what we consider art.
There were the anti-war billboards, and at the MoCA, there's a work called
Telephone Piece. It's a simple white phone with these instructions: "When
the telephone rings, pick up the receiver and talk to Yoko Ono." Ono will
actually call the museum once a day during the run of the show.
That kind of humor pervades much of the exhibition. Consider her 80-minute,
1966 film Bottoms in which Ono filmed the naked, moving buttocks of a group
of New York artists and friends. Or a 1967 piece called A Box of Smile. The
viewer looks inside the box and sees a reflection that can only make you smile.
As curator Alexandra Munroe has said: "She's using humor to kind of trip
you into another consciousness. She wants you to think differently, she
wants you to have a flash."
In person, Ono is earnest.
Ask how Lennon's death affected her art, she says: "He was a very warm
presence in my life. We were very, very close. I don't know how to
verbalize it. It seems too contrived for words."
But ever the conceptual artist, Ono says she found herself eating
chocolate. Apparently, Lennon liked it and Ono always made him feel guilty.
Eating chocolate, she says, made her re-experience both her love for him
and the guilt he might have felt.
Several pieces speak to her grief, but one, a sort of Zen exercise called
Cleaning Piece, features a pile of stones that the viewer can move into two
wooden bowls. One bowl is marked Mound of Sorrow, the other Mound of Joy.
It seems to be Ono's reflection on the afterlife.
She says too many of us have a idea of heaven where the creator makes a
decision on our behalf.
But, says Ono: "We're the ones who put the stone where we want it."
John Tanasychuk can be reached at email@example.com or
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