Yoko Ono

a yoko ono biography

 

Take some Fluxus and a slice of Grapefruit

By the mid-1960s Yoko Ono was an established figure in the underground art scene; she had begun performing musical pieces, presented events with a loosely affiliated group of artists who worked under the name Fluxus, published a book of instructional poems entitled Grapefruit (e.g. "Hammer a nail in the center of a piece of glass. Send a fragment to an arbitrary address."), and was making films. Ambivalent about the Fluxus movement she unwittingly helped found, Ono recalls a conversation she had with George Maciunas, Fluxus's eccentric dean, who gave the artist her first solo show in his AG Gallery in New York in July 1961. "I remember hearing him say, 'I think we should have a name for this movement', and thinking, 'I don't think this a movement'", she says. "I thought avant-garde world in New York was still very exciting but that it was starting to become an institution in itself, and there were rules and regulations in an invisible way, and I just wanted to get out of it. I never considered myself a member of any group. I was just doing my own thing, and I'm sure that most artists I knew in those days felt the same."

arrow "Summer of 1961" as remembered by Yoko Ono

Michael Bracewell about this era in Yoko Ono's life in 1996 (The Guardian): "The point of Fluxus was to suggest creative anarchy by using absurd or light-hearted aesthetics; punk in its sympathy with do-it-yourself art, Fluxus offered a creative home to artists such as Yoko who wanted to make conceptual or minimalist statements about the mysticism of art and existence. A world away from the macho studios of abstract expressionism, or the buzzing salons of apprentice pop artists, Fluxus, for Yoko, was an accidentally acquired creative environment in which she could rehearse her notions of nature and feminism. Prophetically, in Wall Piece For Orchestra (1962) she knelt on a stage and repeatedly banged her head upon the floor. Humour, in Fluxus, was often the vehicle for profundity. The Chambers Street series started before Fluxus. George Maciunas came to one of the concerts and that's where he got the idea of getting a gallery in mid-town. I think they called my work `too dramatic', because in those days, in the New York art scene, you weren't supposed to be too animated. Basically, when John and I found each other it wasn't because of what he was or what I was but because of this rebellious nature in both of us. And even in the avant-garde I was rebellious about it all. It's not just being a woman. If you're a good girl, so to speak, and kind of following the tradition of the avant-garde and using their vocabulary, then I think they'll allow you to exist. So that's why I don't really know if it was the woman in me that offended them or the fact that I was rebelling. It's all a mixture of things; but women, especially, are not supposed to rebel. I mean it's, `How dare you!' or `You should just be with us!' you know, reflecting their ways..."

Yoko about her art in Art Newspaper (Nov 2000): "I was not intentionally doing something that was not going to bring me money. In about 1965 there was a gallery owner who told my then-husband, "If Yoko made one piece with a scratch or crack in it, then it would become unique and I could sell it. But she's so conceptual. She's always dealing with something that can be replicated." This reflects what the art market was and is, that they were selling something that was not a concept, but an object. What kept me going was an arrogant Van Gogh complex, thinking that an artist has to make works that are truly artistic-art for art's sake. In those days I never thought that the things I was doing would ever leave a trace afterwards."

John and Yoko

Her work came in for frequent critical derision; when she performed in Japan as a solo artist in 1962, one American reviewer said she stole her ideas from John Cage. In 1966 she was invited to London to participate in a Destruction In Art symposium (aka DIAS), where, among other works, she performed her now-famous Cut Piece, in which she knelt on stage and invited the audience to cut off her clothing with a pair of scissors. Her appearance was a success, and she was then invited to hold her own exhibition at London's Indica Gallery. It was at a preview for her show, on November 9th, 1966, that she met John Lennon.

 

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Yoko Ono 1964
Yoko Ono in 1964. © Getty Images

Fluxus 1965
Fluxus folks in 1965

© Sari Gurney
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