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Yoko Ono
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Wikipedia About Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono is a Japanese artist, author, and peace activist, known for her work in avant-garde art, music and filmmaking as well as her marriage to John Lennon. Ono brought feminism to the forefront in her music which prefigured New Wave music and is known for her philanthropic contributions to the arts, peace and AIDS outreach programs. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Yoko Ono, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Since the early 1960s, Yoko Ono has been a seminal figure in avant-garde culture—her music, poetry, performances, films, sculpture, and paintings are inextricably linked to the development of Fluxus and Conceptualism. Her close associations with John Cage and La Monte Young led her to experiment with the “event score”—brief instructions that proposed mental and/or physical actions to be carried out by the reader. Lighting Piece (1955), one of her earliest Event Scores, directed the performer to “light a match and watch till it goes out.” In the late 1950s, her practice extended to Instruction Paintings, which included traditional Japanese calligraphy and directions to the audience for completion of the work, such as walking or dripping water onto a canvas. Ono’s notion of painting was twofold: instruction and realization, and enfolded audience participation and the use of language as a form of art. These innovations attracted the attention of George Maciunas, the founder of Fluxus and an important champion of her work.

The Walker Art Center’s collection includes a version of Ono’s Painting to Hammer a Nail, an Instruction Painting originally conceived in 1961. She made a number of realizations of this score, the first of which was exhibited in 1966 at Indica Gallery in London. The white-painted wood panel included a hammer that dangled from a chain along with a jar of nails placed on a chair. The directions for the piece asked the viewer to hammer a nail in the panel and then wrap a strand of hair around it. Although no hair remained on the piece, the work was deemed finished once the surface was covered with nails. The second version of the work, Painting to Hammer a Nail In (1961/1967), is made of stainless steel and glass and is inscribed to John Lennon, whom she had met in 1966 at the preview of her exhibition at Indica Gallery. The work can be read as a response to his suggestion that he hammer an imaginary nail into the panel, a conceptual proposal that echoed Ono’s ongoing preoccupation with the importance of the idea of art over the physical object.

Performed as early as 1964 in Kyoto and as recently as 2003 in Paris, Cut Piece is an iconic work that unites Ono’s conceptual practice with an immediate social event. A video of a 1964 performance at Carnegie Recital Hall documents Ono sitting motionless onstage as audience members take turns cutting off a piece of her clothing until she is stripped to her underwear. This work is as much a comment on collective responsibility as it is about the sexualized role of women in our society, exposing an intimate, and at the time unexplored, territory of the artist’s own anguish in a public forum. In writing about this piece, Ono has said: “People went on cutting the parts they do not like of me finally there was only the stone remained of me that was in me but they were still not satisfied and wanted to know what it’s like in the stone.”1

In 1969, the newly married Lennon and Ono held the first in a series of antiwar demonstrations called Bed-Ins for Peace, in which they invited the media into their bedroom for a week to discuss their opposition to the Vietnam War. Because of their fame, their message of peace was wide-reaching, giving voice to what was on the minds of an entire generation at the height of this historic period. The Bed-Ins expanded Ono’s practice to an international audience and transformed performance into a broad cultural and political statement. It also provided another layer to the artist’s iconoclastic strategies of unifying her work in music, performance, and visual art. During the following year, the couple devised a multimedia campaign that included advertisements, billboards, posters, radio spots, and postcards that read: “War is Over! If you want it. Love and Peace from John & Yoko.” Ono recently revisited their powerful public statement in a piece commissioned by the Walker: on a billboard in downtown Minneapolis she offered the simple message “Imagine Peace.”

  1. Yoko Ono, “Biography/Statement” (1966), reprinted in Jon Hendricks and Alexandra Munroe, Y E S YOKO ONO, exh. cat. (New York: Japan Society and Harry N. Abrams, 2000), 301.

Chivaratanond, Sylvia. “Yoko Ono.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center

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