ZEN VAUDEVILLE & HEART DANCES: THE RETURN OF YOKO ONO
by Gary Gach
American Reporter Correspondent
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- All good things come around, all in good time. Such is the case with the work of Yoko Ono, who's been indefatigably pushing the boundaries of art and life for the past 40 years, but is only now getting the broad recognition she's due in America's museums of art.
"Yes Yoko Ono" is her first American retrospective, 150 pieces, and it's a mind-opener. For example, the show takes its title from an early interactive installation known as "Ceiling Painting." Above a white ladder, a magnifying glass hangs by a chain from a frame on the ceiling. The reading glass reveals a single word beneath the framed sheet of glass:
Hers is an art that spotlights process, rather than product. Like paper flowers that unfold in water, or like haiku, her art happens in the viewer's mind -- more conceptual than retinal. Thus, if you can't attend the exhibition (travelling next to Miami, then to Asia), the copious catalogue is a good second-best. Just a description can be a work of art, like this: -----:
In another room of the museum, if you look up, you'll see a blank canvas in a gold frame, angled to fit up in a ceiling corner. By asking us to change our position, it doesn't necessarily change our life, but changes how we view it.
Context is always key. If this might seem facile or oversimplified, it's not without cost (or payoff), however hidden or easily mistaken. Ono's affirmation of the inevitable positive evolution of the human species occurs despite the ground beneath her feet having been bombed beyond recognition in World War II.
Immigrating to America, it was no mean feat to hold her own against a predominantly white, male art elite. And what could be more demanding than marrying John Lennon (whom she met when he climbed up that white ladder at her show in London, in 1966), collaborating with him, raising a child with him, then tragically losing him. She's quite a survivor - and quite an innovator, in art, poetry, music, film and video, and life, as the show testifies.
Given Ono's outspoken social engagement, it's fitting that San Francisco, a renowned seedbed of positivity, peace, and social activism, be the West Coast venue of "Yes." In 1969, when the war in Vietnam was blazing out of control (think: My Lai), she and Lennon turned the media exploitation of their marriage against itself to wage a campaign for peace, documented in her one-hour video from their week-long "Bed-In for Peace."
While the world didn't change in two months thereafter, their activism certainly helped stop the war earlier than expected. Moreover, they helped change the format of people's self-regard, for example, by introducing the idea of freeing one's self independently of any perceived oppressor.
The bed-in video faces a roomful of recent works reflecting the maturity and continued vitality of Ono's vision. One example, "Play It By Trust," is a large white conference table with white chairs facing 10 white chessboards, with all-white pieces. Imagining the heads of state and captains of industry that might face each other in such a setting, you realize that in this game player and opponent inevitably become more and more inseparable the longer they play together.
Against another wall is an equivalence scale, with the photo of a family in one tray and a revolver in the other. It is mute and powerful testimony to the lives that can hang in the balance of a single act of violence. Resonating with the theme of balance, "Cleaning Piece" invites the visitor to choose a stone from a large mound and place it either in a rectangle marked "Mound of Joy," or a neighboring rectangle marked "Mound of Sorrow." We're thus able to observe transformation in action, and witness joy and sorrow as one.
The show continues outside and around the corner, with a billboard that states "War Is Over!" A replica of one of many billboards that John and Yoko bought across the country and around the world, it's unfortunate that it is still so timely - and not just because every second of air time and inch of news space is paid for by advertisements.
War continues. Many fight for peace. Others, like Yoko Ono, stand for peace.
The "Yes Yoko Ono" Exhibition is at the San Francisco Museum of
Modern Art through-September 9, 2002.
Longtime AR Correspondent Gary Gach's latest book is "The Complete Idiot's
Guide to Understanding Buddhism."He is editor of "What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems
from Beat to Hiphop." Visit Gary at http://word.to or write email@example.com.
Longtime AR Correspondent Gary Gach's latest book is "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism."He is editor of "What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop." Visit Gary at http://word.to or write firstname.lastname@example.org.