Cut Piece (1964) performed by Yoko Ono in New Works of Yoko Ono, Carnegie Recital Hall, New York, March 21, 1965. Photograph by Minoru Niizuma. © Minoru Niizuma. Courtesy Lenono Photo Archive, New York.
From May 17 to September 7, 2015, The Museum of Modern Art presents its first exhibition dedicated exclusively to the work of Yoko Ono, taking as its point of departure the artist’s unofficial MoMA debut in late 1971.
At that time, Ono advertised her “one woman show,” titled Museum of Modern [F]art. However, when visitors arrived at the Museum there was little evidence of her work. According to a sign outside the entrance, Ono had released flies on the Museum grounds, and the public was invited to track them as they dispersed across the city.
Now, over 40 years later, Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971 surveys the decisive decade that led up to Ono’s unauthorized exhibition at MoMA, bringing together approximately 125 of her early objects, works on paper, installations, performances, audio recordings, and films, alongside rarely seen archival materials.
A number of works invite interaction, including Painting to Be Stepped On (1960/1961) and Ono’s groundbreaking performance, Bag Piece (1964).
The exhibition draws upon the 2008 acquisition of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, which added approximately 100 of Ono’s artworks and related ephemera to the Museum’s holdings.
Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971 is organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator at Large, MoMA, and Director, MoMA PS1; and Christophe Cherix, The Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings and Prints; with Francesca Wilmott, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.
During the first 11 years of her extensive career, Ono moved among New York, Tokyo, and London, serving a pioneering role in the international development of Conceptual art, experimental film, and performance art. Her earliest works were often based on instructions that Ono communicated to viewers in verbal or written form.
Painting to Be Stepped On (1960/1961), for example, invited viewers to tread upon a piece of canvas placed directly on the floor. Though easily overlooked, the work radically questioned the division between art and the everyday by asking viewers to participate in its completion.
At times poetic, humorous, sinister, and idealistic, Ono’s early text-based works anticipated the objects that she presented throughout the decade, including Grapefruit (1964), her influential book of instructions; Apple (1966), a solitary piece of fruit placed on a Plexiglas pedestal; and Half-A-Room (1967), an installation of bisected domestic objects.
The exhibition also explores Ono’s seminal performances and films, including Cut Piece (1964) and Film No. 4 (1966/1967).
In Cut Piece, Ono confronted issues of gender, class, and cultural identity by asking viewers to cut away pieces of her clothing as she sat quietly on stage.
Two years later Ono made Film No. 4, which again centered on the body, though to much different effect. The film — a sequence of naked, moving buttocks—signaled Ono’s desire to break down class 2 hierarchies by focusing on a universally shared feature.
At the end of the decade, Ono’s collaborations with John Lennon, including Bed-In (1969) and the War is Over! if you want it (1969–) campaign, boldly communicated her commitment to promoting world peace.
Upon returning to New York in the early 1970s, Ono—like the flies purportedly released at MoMA—had infiltrated the public realm; her artwork appeared on billboards and in newspapers and she performed internationally with her Plastic Ono Band.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, featuring three newly commissioned essays that evaluate the cultural context of Ono’s early years, and five sections reflecting her geographic locations during this period and the corresponding evolution of her artistic practice. Each chapter includes an introduction by a guest scholar, artwork descriptions, primary documents culled from newspapers and magazines, and a selection by the artist of her texts and drawings.
It begins in New York in December 1960, where Ono initiated a performance series with La Monte Young in her Chambers Street loft. Over the course of the decade, Ono earned international recognition, staging “Cut Piece” in Kyoto and Tokyo in 1964, exhibiting at the Indica Gallery in London in 1966, and launching with John Lennon her global “War Is Over!” campaign in 1969.
Ono returned to New York in the early 1970s and organized an unsanctioned “one woman show” at MoMA. Over 40 years after Ono’s unofficial MoMA debut, the Museum presents its first exhibition dedicated exclusively to the artist’s work. The accompanying publication features three newly commissioned essays that evaluate the cultural context of Ono’s early years, and five sections reflecting her geographic locations during this period and the corresponding evolution of her artistic practice.
Each chapter includes an introduction by a guest scholar, artwork descriptions, primary documents culled from newspapers, magazines and journals, and a selection by the artist of her texts and drawings.
Born in Tokyo in 1933, Yoko Ono moved to New York in the mid-1950s and became a critical link between the American and Japanese avant-gardes. Ono’s groundbreaking work greatly influenced the international development of Conceptual art, performance art and experimental film and music. In celebration of Ono’s eightieth birthday in 2013, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt organized a major traveling retrospective.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Gallery, Sixth Floor
11 West 53 Street
New York (NY) 10019
May 17–September 7, 2015
Saturday – Thursday from 10:30am to 5:30pm
Friday from 10:30am to 8:00pm
1. Yoko Ono (Japanese, born 1933), Grapefruit. 1964. Artist’s book, offset, 5 7/16 x 5 7/16 x 1 1/4″ (13.8 x 13.8 x 3.2 cm) (overall, closed). Publisher: Wunternaum Press (the artist), Tokyo. Edition: 500. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, 2008. © Yoko Ono 2014
2. Painting to See in the Dark (Version 1). 1961. Installation view with the artist, Paintings & Drawings by Yoko Ono, AG Gallery, New York, July 17–30, 1961. Photograph by George Maciunas. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, 2008. © 2014 George Maciunas
3. Yoko Ono (Japanese, born 1933), Touch Poem #5. c. 1960. Hair, ink on paper, 9 7/8 × 13 7/16″ (25 x 34.1 cm). Private collection. © Yoko Ono 2014
4. Yoko Ono (Japanese, born 1933), Sky Machine. 1961/1966. Stainless steel dispenser, metal pedestal, and handwritten cards. Dispenser: 51 3/16 x 16 1/8 x 16 1/8″ (130 x 41 x 41 cm); card (each): 1 x 1 3/4″ (2.5 x 4.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, 2008. © Yoko Ono 2014
5. Yoko Ono and John Lennon. War is Over! if you want it. 1969. Offset, 29 15/16 x 20” (76 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, 2008. © Yoko Ono 2014
6. Yoko Ono (Japanese, born 1933), Apple. 1966. Plexiglas pedestal, brass plaque, apple, 45 × 6 11/16 × 6 15/16″ (114.3 × 17 × 17.6 cm). Private collection. © Yoko Ono 2014