The Museum of Modern Art presents its first exhibition dedicated exclusively to the work of Yoko Ono, taking as its point of departure the artist’s unofficial MoMA debut in late 1971. At that time, Ono advertised her “one woman show,” titled Museum of Modern [F]art. However, when visitors arrived at the Museum there was little evidence of her work. According to a sign outside the entrance, Ono had released flies on the Museum grounds, and the public was invited to track them as they dispersed across the city. Now, over 40 years later, Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971 surveys the decisive decade that led up to Ono’s unauthorized exhibition at MoMA, bringing together approximately 125 of her early objects, works on paper, installations, performances, audio recordings, and films, alongside rarely seen archival materials. A number of works invite interaction, including Painting to Be Stepped On (1960/1961) and Ono’s groundbreaking performance, Bag Piece (1964). The exhibition draws upon the 2008 acquisition of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, which added approximately 100 of Ono’s artworks and related ephemera to the Museum’s holdings.
During the first 11 years of her extensive career, Ono moved among New York, Tokyo, and London, serving a pioneering role in the international development of Conceptual art, experimental film, and performance art. Her earliest works were often based on instructions that Ono communicated to viewers in verbal or written form. Painting to Be Stepped On (1960/1961), for example, invited viewers to tread upon a piece of canvas placed directly on the floor. Though easily overlooked, the work radically questioned the division between art and the everyday by asking viewers to participate in its completion. At times poetic, humorous, sinister, and idealistic, Ono’s early text-based works anticipated the objects that she presented throughout the decade, including Grapefruit (1964), her influential book of instructions; Apple (1966), a solitary piece of fruit placed on a Plexiglas pedestal; and Half-A-Room (1967), an installation of bisected domestic objects.
The exhibition also explores Ono’s seminal performances and films, including Cut Piece (1964) and Film No. 4 (1966/1967). In Cut Piece, Ono confronted issues of gender, class, and cultural identity by asking viewers to cut away pieces of her clothing as she sat quietly on stage. Two years later Ono made Film No. 4, which again centered on the body, though to much different effect. The film—a sequence of naked, moving buttocks—signaled Ono’s desire to break down class hierarchies by focusing on a universally shared feature. At the end of the decade, Ono’s collaborations with John Lennon, including Bed-In (1969) and the WAR IS OVER! if you want it (1969–) campaign, boldly communicated her commitment to promoting world peace. Upon returning to New York in the early 1970s, Ono—like the flies purportedly released at MoMA—had infiltrated the public realm; her artwork appeared on billboards and in newspapers and she performed internationally with her Plastic Ono Band.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, featuring three newly commissioned essays that evaluate the cultural context of Ono’s early years, and five sections reflecting her geographic locations during this period and the corresponding evolution of her artistic practice. Each chapter includes an introduction by a guest scholar, artwork descriptions, primary documents culled from newspapers and magazines, and a selection by the artist of her texts and drawings.