For six decades, Yoko Ono has maintained an unwavering belief in art’s ability to transform, uplift, and inspire. Her work, typically ephemeral or participatory, occupies the porous boundaries between artistic disciplines, from music and film to sculpture, poetry, and performance art. Ono’s approach to art making is generous, and since emerging in New York’s downtown art scene in the 1950s, she has privileged collaboration over solitary authorship, inclusivity over isolation, and transience over permanence. These underlying precepts, which simultaneously undermine the capitalist structure of the art market and criticize the institutional model of the museum, also unified a postwar artistic movement known as Fluxus, of which Ono was an important contributor. For Ono, as well as later generations of artists and those currently engaged in social practice, art belongs to everyone, can be created by anyone, and has the potential to change the world.
Yoko Ono was born in Tokyo in 1933. A survivor of the trauma inflicted on Japan during World War II, she moved to the United States in 1953 during a period of surging nationalism, consumerism, and anti-Japanese sentiment. During this time, Ono became a central figure within New York’s downtown scene and became close collaborators with artist George Maciunas, the founder of Fluxus. Many avant-garde intellectuals, artists, composers, and writers gathered regularly at Ono’s Chambers Street loft for experimental performances by groundbreaking artists like La Monte Young, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Terry Jennings, Jackson Mac Low, Richard Maxfield, Henry Flynt, Joseph Byrd, Simone Forti, and Robert Morris. Here, Ono realized some of her earliest conceptual works that would greatly influence the trajectory of art, film, and music.
Ineffable, intangible, impermanent, Ono’s art, as a body of work, defies categorization. The term Wakon yosai (“Japanese spirit, Western technology”), the national slogan of modernization in Japan during the Meji era, might best describe Ono’s approach to life and art. Her works, conceptually linked to the form of musical scores, draw on sources as diverse as the history of classical and modern Japanese art and Zen Buddhism to early black-and-white cinema and classical music. Ono’s signature text-based scores date back to the early 1950s. In 1964, she published the scores in Grapefruit, her definitive text. The scores, as Ono explained in 2016, “are a bit like music scores which exist so anyone can play the composition. What I’ve imagined are art scores. Each visitor can take them up so that their own ‘music’ can be heard in my creations.”
Throughout the 1960s, Ono had significant solo exhibitions in the United States, Japan, and in England—including the AG Gallery in New York City and the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo. She performed at the 83rd Fluxus Concert: Fluxorchestra at Carnegie Hall, In 1966, Ono performed Cut Piece in Kyoto and Tokyo, exhibited her work at the Judson Church, and participated in the first Destruction In Art Symposium organized by Gustav Metzger in London. Ono met John Lennon when he visited her exhibition Yoko at Indica, at the Indica Gallery in London.
Following her marriage to Lennon in 1968, Ono was catapulted onto the world’s stage of fame and wide public visibility, a position she has brilliantly coopted to further her long-standing interest in the power of the imagination, human rights, and world peace.
Forty-eight years after the Everson hosted This is Not Here, Ono’s first museum retrospective, Yoko Ono: Remembering The Future presents her enduring artistic work devoted to healing human connections and exposing social and political injustices. Spanning more than six decades from germinal early instruction pieces to recent, large-scale architectural installations, Yoko Ono: Remembering The Future traces Ono’s experimental approach to language, art, and participation as a means of contributing to a more accepting and peaceful world.
Yoko Ono: Remembering The Future is curated by DJ Hellerman, the Everson’s Curator of Art & Programs and Jon Hendricks, Ono’s long-time friend and curator in partnership with Yoko Ono, Studio One, and Susie Lim.
The operation of the Everson Museum of Art is made possible with funding from the Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation, the County of Onondaga administered by CNY Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, the Richard Mather Fund, the Everson Board of Trustees and Everson Museum of Art Members’ Council.
Yoko Ono: Remembering The Future is made possible, in part, through support from Bonnie and Gary Grossman, Sollecito Landscaping Nursery, and Hancock Estabrook, LLP.