I've been way too into food posts recently, so this week I thought I'd mix it up with a new series I've been wanting to start for a long time: Badass Women. It's essentially a running list of women who've done awesome stuff and impacted the world by doing what they want and not giving a flying f*&%k what society expects of them.
For the foreseeable future, on the first Friday of every month, I will post about a woman who's accomplishments and attitude inspire me and hopefully you as well!
Today's inaugural post might be a bit controversial, but keep an open mind: Yoko Ono. Now I'm sure a lot of you are going, "What? Yoko Ono? But she broke up The Beatles." No, she didn't. They hadn't liked each other for a long time and it's not like she bewitched John Lennon into exploring the avant-garde. If you need more proof, here is Paul McCartney absolving Yoko. So let's move on from that.
I first fell in love with Yoko just before graduating from college when I had to read her masterpiece of instructional poetry, Grapefruit. Like many, I had a lot of preconceived notions about Yoko Ono and was completely struck by how wrong I was. Her instructional poems were playful and filled with humor; self-aware without being self-absorbed. I distinctly remember going to class the next day and saying "I dig this chick!".
So naturally, when The MoMA (aka The Museum of Modern Art) announced it was putting on an exhibition of Ono's work, I knew I HAD to see it.
In spite of being a household name since 1966, when she met John Lennon, Yoko was largely shunned and ostracized from formal art institutions. She mostly showcased her own work in her apartment in Downtown, NYC on Chambers Street. In fact, one of Yoko's performance pieces revolved around the premise of being showcased at MoMA.
The curators at MoMa will tell you about it better than I do, so here, read below:
Yoko's unconventional approach rubbed the art world the wrong way. They were just fully embracing Modernism and while Ono's art is rooted in the scars of a Post-War/Atomic World, it goes beyond typical Modern art and lacks the essential gravitas and pessimism.
One Woman Show exhibits Yoko Ono's work from 1960-1971. Many of the pieces in the exhibition, and in Yoko's catalogue in general, are representative of a shifting perspective. Where many artists are only capable of showing you their own changes in perspective, Yoko Ono invites you to jump on over to her side and see things from her vantage point, thereby changing your view as well.
The above piece entitled, Apple, seems self explanatory, it's a freaking apple, but what happens when the apple rots, decays, withers, and disappears? Or if God forbid, someone eats it! Much like Yoko's other work, it also explores the art and design of the natural world.
One of my favorite things about Yoko Ono is her art isn't necessarily the physical object in front of you, it's the combination of the object and the viewer's interaction with it. All art is like this to an extent, but the action most artists illicit is to look, Ono almost always wants and instructs the viewer to do. Ono wants you to step on the painting, to climb the ladder, to hammer the nail. Each piece is ever evolving and requires the viewer's interaction with it.
How do you know who wins?
One of my favorite pieces is a room with a soundtrack of either animal sounds or music playing and dimming/brightening light. In the room is the above sign with the instruction to touch each other. You can't deny there is a sexual aspect to this and most people took a second to think about how they could/would touch others in the room as the lights faded. I opted for a spirited, slow-motion punch at The B Man.
The "Touch Each Other" room was adjacent to a video of one of Yoko's most famous pieces of all time, "Cut Piece". It is a performance piece where Yoko sits on the floor with only a pair of scissors and a piece of paper in front of her. On the piece of paper is the instruction "Cut". Yoko sits and waits for viewers to take the scissors and cut whatever they want. As you watch the video it is incredible to see how everyone's behavior changes when they are given ultimate agency and power. There were ways in which age, gender, and race, become obvious factors in how and what people choose to cut. It's completely brilliant, the end.
Yoko also created a new interactive installation specifically for this exhibit called, "To See the Sky." It's a large, staircase that leads you up to a skylight. You climb up the stairs individually (there's quite a long line for this one) and look at the sky/skyline above the museum. It's another piece that involves the ever-changing art of the natural world and theoretically, since you climb up alone, the piece is never the same twice.
I did climb up, but apparently I'm not super cool with heights and got a little too nervous to snap pics at the top...who knew?
But hands down, my favorite part of the exhibition was the original pages of Grapefruit mounted in a tidy row along the walls.
They are short, instructional poems.
Some are possible to complete.
Some are not.
Most are under 140 characters and read quite a bit like Tweets. Oh Yoko, so ahead of your time!
But again, it's the very "Yoko" idea of the art not just being the object you look at, but your interaction with it and your participation in the event itself.
In fact, my only complaint about the exhibition was that The MoMa isn't really the right place for a Yoko exhibition. The walls of the museum seem to limit the effectiveness of her art and the viewers' participation with it. The museum seemed to think it had an obligation to preserve pieces that begged you to play with them, sometimes literally, because if you were able to follow the instructions, the piece would be "destroyed". But I think Yoko would argue it's destruction is part of it and that the piece is still there and still as valuable.
Since most of the pieces are actually from Yoko's private collection, I'd love to see her mount this exact same show in a less institutionalized place. A place where you could climb the ladder, or hammer the nail into the wall. But then again, Yoko's no fool, and has spent her life being shut out of such institutions and written off by society. Perhaps, the whole exhibition comes with a wink and a chuckle from Yoko as if to say, "You can't hold me".
And that's what I truly love about Yoko, everything from her parents, to World War II, to pop culture, tried to hold Yoko in, tried to make her what they wanted her to be. Whether it was an artistic hack, or the woman who broke up The Beatles, everyone has tried to to put Yoko in her place. But Yoko just keeps doing her Yoko thing.
I could go on for days about Yoko Ono, but Yoko must be experienced. So, if you are in or around New York, get you butt to MoMa and see it! The show is on through September 7th and if you go on Friday after 4:00pm, it's free as a part of UNIQLO Free Fridays (although it will be crowded).
If you can't get yourself to MoMa, Yoko is never far away. She's got a killer Twitter (@yokoono) and Instagram (@yokoonoofficial). But what I would highly suggest is getting a copy of Grapefruit as soon as humanly possible. You can read it in a few hours and it will at the very least: give you a new perspective on Yoko, and at the most change your life like it did mine!
Alright, go start your Yoko journey and please please please comment below with suggestions for Badass Women I should cover!