Yoko Ono’s 40 years of famous obscurity

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Yoko Ono’s 40 years of famous obscurity

She’s the world’s most famous unknown artist, according to John Lennon. “Everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does,” he said. After a 40-year career, those words are as true now as they have ever been.
Despite the vast scale of her artistic productions, Ms. Ono’s artistic identity is practically unknown outside New York City, where she has lived and worked since the mid 1950s.
“Yes Yoko Ono,” which opens at the Rodin Gallery tomorrow, is the artist’s first retrospective in Korea ― and one of the first Asia, for that matter. It’s sponsored by the Japan Society Gallery and Jon Hendricks, a curator and collector of Ono’s works.
The exhibition divides a body of 126 works into six sections, encompassing sculpture, installation, video, photography and performance art.
The first section, titled “Grapefruit,” introduces Ms. Ono’s conceptual work of the early 1960s, and acts as a guide to the directions of her art, which focuses more on the notion of “process” rather than finished product.
“Half a Wind,” the next section, assembles Ms. Ono’s works as they gradually turned from performance to minimalist sculptures.
Her video projects and 16-millimeter films will be screened in the third section, titled “Fly.” The fourth section, the “War Is Over” documents Ms. Ono’s collaborations with Mr. Lennon, her late husband.
“This Is Not Here: Yoko Documents” is a collection of posters and advertisements for her works. The final section, “Lay It by Trust” consists of some of the artist’s recent works, which recreate her earlier works in bronze.
Yoko Ono emerged in the New York art scene as one of the originators of Fluxus, an avant-garde movement that developed in lower Manhattan during the early 1960s. There she participated in artistic productions that challenged the conventions of modern art, along with interdisciplinary artists such as Paik Nam-june and John Cage.
One of her best-known works was a series of anti-war performances she staged with Mr. Lennon. Shortly before their marriage in 1969, they released an album, “Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins,” which caused a sensation over their nude portrait on the LP’s cover. In hotels in Amsterdam and Montreal, they staged weeklong performances titled “Bed In for Peace.” Dressed in pajamas, they invited the press into their bedroom to protest the Vietnam War. “All we are saying is give peace a chance” ― a phrase that was a part of the performance ― later became one of the slogans of the peace movement.
Few realize that Ms. Ono was one of the pioneers of public art using advertising, which later became a hallmark of conceptual art, adopted by contemporary artists like Jenny Holzer and Felix Gonzales Torres.
Ms. Ono’s works on billboards and print media date back to as early as 1964. She promoted her marriage as an act of spreading racial equality.
Last year Ms. Ono took out a full-page ad in the New York Times and put out posters in Times Square to spread a message of world peace.
Shortly afterward, she posted the words of her late husband’s classic song “Imagine” at Piccadilly Circus in London as another call for harmony among the peoples of the world.
She continues to create art that brings the idea of art and life to its home.


by Park Soo-mee

“Yes Yoko Ono” runs from tomorrow until Sept. 14. In addition, Ms. Ono will speak at 2 p.m. tomorrow in the Samsung Life Building. For more information, call (02) 2259-7781.
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