I had my own encounter with Yoko Ono and her art in the 1960s, although at this point she probably wouldn’t remember it. At the time she was doing her bag show in an off-Broadway venue. Her then husband, Anthony Cox, made an appointment and brought her to my office above the old Playhouse Theater, since long gone. I interviewed her for a column I was writing at the time.
My impression was that she was rather shy, and perhaps uncomfortable being led around for publicity purposes. But she was serious and kind, presenting me with a small book of her poems. I have thought of that meeting through the years, and I recalled it fondly as I attend her press conference at MoMA on April 12 after viewing her new exhibition, which opens officially on May 17, 2015, and will be on display through September 7,2015. It will undoubtedly be popular as New Yorkers and tourists flock to MoMA during the busy summer season.
There is irony in connection with her current show. Back in 1971 Yoko Ono announced a show at MoMA, which she amusingly and disrespectfully called The Museum of Modern (F)art. It was an imaginary concept, and when people went to MoMA, what they found outside was a man wearing a sandwich board that said Ono had released an army of flies, and the public was invited to follow the flies in MoMA and as they soared around the city. It was a daring and amusing gambit in her avant-garde approach to art.
Since then, of course, Ona has become an internationally renowned figure, and she has pursued her artistic visions. Now at last she has this real exhibition at MoMA in her show covering the years 1960-1971. It is, as one might expect, filled with the unusual and broadly reflecting the avant-garde work of Ono during that period.
A large portion includes walls filled with notes reflecting thoughts and poems, some of which recall her work with John Lennon. But there are also specific displays of her artistic contributions.
For example, one section is devoted to her black bag show. Another, “Cut Piece" (1964) is film footage taken by the late brothers Albert and David Maysles. Ono is seen sitting very still while individuals viewing her are invited to come up and cut away piece of her clothing. This continues until the cuts get down to her in a bra.
Another video displays her lying naked, interspersed with other scenes. Intriguing was a circular stairway to nowhere, except for an above window from which one can see the sky. She has created this especially for the current show, and those curious enough can mount the black staircase, see the view from the top and then wind their way down again.
I was amused by a bit of her whimsy called Half a Room. In a mini room everything was cut in half—a chair, a sofa, a radio etc., with even shoes sliced in half and strewn on the floor.
Of course, there was her by-now well-known apple exhibit, a single apple perched on a pedestal. Visitors can make their way studying assorted posters, notes and photos reflecting Ono’s art and life. There is much to see in detail.
As might be expected, reactions will depend on how one responds to this sort of art. MoMA is doing a service by giving this much-anticipated Yoko Ono exhibition a prime place in its schedule and allowing the public to evaluate it. At her press conference she expressed her gratitude, in addition to making remarks consistent with her often-stated views that everyone should live in peace, as did John Lennon before his tragic assassination. Seeing this new show inevitably reminds one of their relationship and what it has meant to the world. At the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street. Reviewed May 16, 2015.