Sunday, August 16, 2015

Yoko Ono at MOMA

We are at the age now where we occasionally feel old nostalgic for long-forgotten moments of our past.  They pop up at totally unexpected times and remind us how long it was since we were teenagers.  For example, this weekend the local rock and roll station played songs by a quartet of lads from Liverpool so popular that concert halls could not hold all their fans, and they had to perform at Shea Stadium.  They got the idea because it has now been fifty - yes, that's 5-0 - years since the Beatles performed there.  If you remember that (we do), that should give you a twinge of nostalgia.

It was also the forty-sixth anniversary of Woodstock, another milestone for many of us.

But for a real wallop of nostalgia, what could beat a live concert by Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band, which we went to see on Saturday night at the Museum of Modern Art, where a retrospective of her work is also on view?

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the concert itself, so our two photos of Yoko were taken surreptitiously immediately afterward, when the audience was beginning to rise in standing ovation. While we were waiting for the concert to start, we were treated to "Bottoms", a 1966 film by Yoko and FLUXUS Group. Each of 365 derrieres-in-motion filled the screen, one at a time. Needless to say, it set the tone for the rest of the evening and made it obvious that Yoko hadn't lost her sense of humor -- or of anarchy.

Born in 1933, Ono is now 82 years old. She looked quite small and frail on stage and even had to pause the show at one point to ask her guitarist open her water bottle, but she can still sing at full throttle.  Behind her, throughout the hour long event, were videos we assume to be of herself and her family in the 1930s.

The small concert hall held only 200 seats, and made for a very intimate experience.  Leaving the theater, we saw this couple ahead of us in marvelous white suits.  Imagine what fun they must have had getting dressed.

MOMA's exhibition "Yoko Ono: One Woman Show 1960 - 1971" runs through September 7th. So make haste to see it. Many may be surprised to learn how long Yoko was a working artist, painting, drawing, filming, performing and exhibiting in New York, long before she ever met John Lennon.

Her irreverence was evident at every turn.  This 1961 piece, "Painting to be Stepped On" (sumi ink on canvas, ink on paper), was just that.

Her 1964 "Bag Piece", first performed during Perpetual Fluxfest, Cinematique, New York, on June 27, 1965, has been recreated at MOMA and visitors are invited to don the black bag and perform on a 6" raised wooden platform. The photo below is of an intrepid museum-goer rolling around the floor and stretching out in the bag in a number of very non-yoga poses. Truth be told, although Valerie had arranged for both of us to be in the same black bag at the same time (or possibly two black bags at the same time - we're not exactly sure), Jean chickened out, in no small part because of fear of both of us stumbling off the platform and injuring ourselves. It is a well-documented fact that we are both klutzes.  Can you imagine the risks inherent in the two of us performing in a big black bag (in which we couldn't see what was going on outside or inside?) in a strange space -- on a raised platform?

Yoko's first solo gallery show was at AG Gallery, New York, July 17-30, 1961. The poster for "Paintings and Drawings by Yoko Ono" was designed by Yoko and George Maciunas.

Her 1967 "Half-a-Room" features artfully arranged domestic objects cut in half, most painted in white. Anyone who ever experienced roommate or spousal issues may have fantasized about creating a similar domestic arrangement.

"Painting to Hammer a Nail" from 1961 consists of a painted wood panel, nails, metal chain and painted hammer.

Her 1961 "Painting in 3 Stanzas" is made of sumi ink on canvas, vine, wood, aluminum, thumbtacks and cotton cord.

Yoko's "Water Drop Painting (Version 1)" dates from 1961 and is of sumi ink and water on canvas, glass bottle and cotton cord.

Ono has been a controversial figure most of her life.  She has her champions and her critics (don't we all?!), but for those of us wondering if we can retain our vibrancy, relevance and love of life as we move through the '-genarian' phases of life, she sets a wonderful example. In closing, ponder the words of her famous poster.


  1. I've never been a fan of Yoko Ono's music or art, but I can appreciate the creativity and forceful personality that has allowed her to keep working and creating. Al of us should be so lucky as to be able to perform a concert at 82.