Yoko Ono’s Freight Train on DIA’s South Lawn
September 17, 2003-Spring 2004



Freight Train, 1999; Yoko Ono; boxcar with light and sound.
Installation on the DIA’s southwest lawn at the corner of Woodward and Farnsworth.

The outdoor sculpture Freight Train, one of Yoko Ono’s most ambitious works, is a German boxcar riddled with bullet holes and set on a short segment of railroad track. The myriad holes perforate the train’s surface, stripping the blue paint down to the raw surface, and creating a thousand voids. From inside the locked boxcar a powerful light emanates, casting luminous rays through each bullet hole and through a hole in the top of the car. Mesmerizing music, created by the artist, emanates from the structure, evoking the hope of the spirits trapped within.

Ono’s inspiration for the work, constructed in 1999, came from a specific instance of human brutality that occurred in 1987: a group of Mexican immigrants attempting to clandestinely enter the United States in a trailer truck died after the locked vehicle was abandoned in the desert. According to the artist, that incident became the guiding concept for “a work of atonement for the injustice and pain we’ve experienced in this [the 20th] century, expressing resistance, healing, and hope for the next century.”

On September 17, this powerful and unsettling work was installed on the DIA’s southwest lawn at the corner of Woodward and Farnsworth. It is situated close enough to the street that passersby can walk up to it, although the car cannot be entered. Prior to its arrival in Detroit, Freight Train was exhibited in Berlin, Yokohama, and New York. The geographical location of the installation carries its own connotations: in Berlin, for example, the work evoked memories and associations of the Holocaust. In Detroit, a border city, it speaks to the issue of migration: the universal hope for a better life weighed against the uncertainty of what lies across the border. Freight Train will remain at the DIA until early spring.

Collection of the artist, Detroit installation sponsored by Lila and Gilbert B. Silverman with the assistance of Fab-ra-cast Concrete Railway Crossing Systems and CSX Transportation. Curated by Jon Hendricks. Thanks to Jorge Starke, Stiftung Starke, Raphel Vostell, and Galerie Vostell in Berlin, Fumio Nanjo Associates and Yuko Nishiyama in Yokohama, and Jeffrey Deitch, Deitch Projects, Alanna Heiss, William Norton, P.S.1, and Karla Merrifield, Studio One in New York. The DIA is supported by Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the City of Detroit.


From the Detroit Institute of Arts