a yoko ono biography

Chambers St. 1961 Image by Minoru Niizuma
Chambers St. 1961. Image by Minoru Niizuma

112 Chambers Street

In New York she discovered avant-garde composers such as Arnold Schönberg and Anton Von Webern, and began seeing a Juilliard student, Toshi Ichiyanagi, who shared her interest in the work of these composers and newer figures like John Cage. In 1956 she married Ichiyanagi against her parents’ wishes, and the two moved to New York City. Ono later set up a loft on Chambers Street on the Lower West Side of Manhattan, eking out a meager living while pursuing her interest in the arts. In the early 1960s, Ono’s loft became the site of a series of performance events, which presented any number of activities going on at once: music, poetry readings, and other types of performance, such as Ono, dubbed as ”the High Priestess of the Happening”, throwing dried peas at the audience while whirling her long hair to provide ”musical accompaniment.” Audiences were invited, and often encouraged, to participate during the events. New York Times (February 5th 1989): ”For a six-month period in 1960 and 1961, her home on Chambers Street was an important meeting place and concert venue for composers, performance artists, poets and others. This sparsely furnished loft in an industrial area of Lower Manhattan – housing nothing but a knocked-about grand piano and chairs made from old orange crates, which the artist would rearrange into a bed at nighttime – was a lonely outpost in the art world of the time. Thanks to these concerts, says the composer John Cage, ”Yoko became an important person in the New York avant-garde. People came from long distances to attend the performances. They were the most interesting things going on.” Among the audiences were Mr. Cage, who was the group’s spiritual leader; George Maciunas, who soon became its impresario; Max Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim, and Marcel and Teeny Duchamp. ”I was definitely part of that fringe scene,” Ms. Ono says, ”but I don’t think that anybody was doing work like mine. My sources were in everything.”

(Article excerpt continued) ”In 1961 Maciunas opened the AG Gallery on Madison Avenue and offered Yoko Ono a show, her first. She exhibited paintings with little burn-holes and a piece of canvas on the floor titled ”Painting To Be Stepped On.” The ”painting” was an irregular piece of canvas. ”I didn’t have the money to buy a canvas,” she says, ”so I was given a piece from the Army disposal store downstairs, and just used that.”

In 1962 she moved back to Japan. Ono’s conceptual artwork was on display in the Instructions for Paintings exhibition in Tokyo. She also divorced from her first marriage in 1962, and married American Anthony Cox. Cox financed and helped coordinate her interactive conceptual events in the early 1960s. On August 8th 1963, their daughter Kyoko Chan Cox was born.

In 1964 Yoko Ono moved back to New York.