Yoko Ono brings her art back to Syracuse, site of her first museum show
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Yoko Ono, the well-known and little-understood artist, is bringing her work back to Syracuse this summer for a show at the Everson Museum of Art.
Will her return as an 86-year-old trigger the same breathless reactions that she encountered in 1971, when the Everson hosted her first solo museum show?
Perhaps not. Much of the hubbub around that event centered on Ono’s husband, the late John Lennon, who accompanied her and contributed to the exhibition. Still, Ono often surprises.
The museum is planning for Ono to attend this year’s show and to perform in at least one of the pieces, said Elizabeth Dunbar, executive director and CEO. But it’s too early to promise that Ono will appear at the show, which opens Aug. 31.
“We hope she will be here,’’ Dunbar said. “We are planning that she will be here. But until we get a little closer to the date, we’re all kind of waiting to know for sure.’’
At a concert featuring Ono’s compositions in March, the artist arrived in a wheelchair, according to a review in the Los Angeles Times.
“Yoko Ono: Remembering the Future’’ will run through Oct. 27, taking up nearly the full interior of the Everson and some outdoor space, Dunbar said. Curated by the Everson’s D.J. Hellerman, the retrospective exhibit will feature works from Ono’s career up to the present, including some works from the 1971 show.
That 1971 show occurred during a tumultuous time, and it met with strong reactions.
For one, there were rumors the Beatles would reunite in Syracuse. Ono’s husband, former Beatle John Lennon, accompanied her to Syracuse. Ringo Starr and other celebrities showed up to help Lennon celebrate his birthday during the event, but there was no reunion.
Some 6,000 people visited the 1971 museum show on opening day.
“That evening the doors to the Everson were broken down because people had heard there’d be a secret Beatles concert at the Everson,” former museum employee David Ross recalled in a 2005 interview. “The entire museum was filled with people furious that it had been canceled, and we were afraid they’d trash the place. (Poet Allen) Ginsberg calmed them down.’’
The New York Times covered the art show opening, leading off with the question, “Is Syracuse ready for Yoko Ono and John Lennon?’’ The Everson “sees itself as a bastion of the avant‐garde set down in a cultural wasteland,’’ the newspaper reported.
The editorial board of the The Post-Standard dismissed the show, accusing the Everson, then just three years old, of peddling “hokum’’ just to lure Lennon to Syracuse and attract attention.
Lennon and Ono wrote a letter to the paper in reply, mocking the editorial board as “Blue Meanies.’’
Ono’s marriage to Lennon in 1969 brought international fame to the ground-breaking artist, who otherwise was known chiefly in the world of avant-garde art. She became, as Lennon put it, the world’s “most famous unknown artist.’’
Associated with the so-called Fluxus art movement, Ono is regarded by many critics as an important, if difficult, conceptual artist.
In a 2015 review, New York Times art critic Holland Carter called Ono an “imaginative, tough-minded and still underestimated artist.’’
One of her best-known performance pieces was “Cut Piece,’’ which debuted in 1964, in which she sat on stage and encouraged members of the audience to cut away her clothing with scissors.
“Even other artists can’t figure out Ono or accept her as legit, nor can she obey the club rules,’’ wrote Lisa Carver, author of a book on Ono, in a tribute published by The New York Times in 2012.
Carver described Ono’s approach to art this way: ”to tear down what’s between us and nature, us and eternity, us and the realization that everything is already perfect. In this experience of art, the viewer or listener loses respect for the current order or arrangement of civilization and thus becomes powerful.’’