Since emerging onto the international art scene in the early 1960s, Yoko Ono has made profound contributions to visual art, performance, filmmaking, and experimental music. Born in Tokyo in 1933, she moved with her family to New York in the mid-1950s and enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College. Over the next decade she lived in New York, Tokyo, and London, greatly influencing the international development of Fluxus and Conceptual art.
Ono’s earliest works were often based on instructions that she communicated to the public in verbal or written form. Painting to Be Stepped On (1960–61), for example, invited people to tread upon a piece of canvas placed directly on the floor, either physically or in their minds. Though easily overlooked, the work radically questioned the division between art and the everyday. In 1964, she compiled more than 150 of her instructions in her groundbreaking artist’s book, Grapefruit. The instructions range from feasible to improbable, often relying upon the reader’s imagination to complete the work. At turns poetic, humorous, unsettling, and idealistic, Ono’s early instruction pieces anticipated her later work, such as Cut Piece (1964), a performance in which people were invited to cut away portions of her clothing; Sky Machine (1966), a sculpture that speaks to her environmental concerns; and To See the Sky (2015), a spiral staircase installed beneath a skylight that visitors were invited to ascend in order to contemplate the sky.
Ono’s collaborations with her late husband, Beatles legend John Lennon, including Bed-In (1969), a weeklong antiwar protest in their honeymoon suite, boldly communicated her commitment to social justice. Never one to confine her work to the gallery space, Ono continues to perform with her avant-garde Plastic Ono Band, promote world peace through her ongoing WAR IS OVER! campaign, and create works that blur the boundaries between art, politics, and society. In recent years, she has embraced social media to communicate her artistic and activist messages to even broader audiences.
Introduction by Francesca Wilmott, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints, 2016
The research for this text was supported by a generous grant from The Modern Women's Fund
Public Space Artist Commissions
410: At the Border of Art and Life
Oct 21, 2019–Sep 20, 2020
Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done
Sep 16, 2018–Feb 3, 2019
Yoko Ono: One Woman Show,
May 17–Sep 7, 2015
Oct 26, 2014–Apr 13, 2015
- Yoko Ono has online.
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