An Eternal Optimist: The Positive Message of Yoko Ono’s New MoMA Retrospective Favorite 



May 12 2015



An Eternal Optimist: The Positive Message of Yoko Ono’s New MoMA Retrospective
by Steff Yotka

How did they ever make a Yoko Ono exhibit? The pop cultural icon is a figure either so beloved or so reviled that an individual’s opinion of her will likely be made up before they even enter the Museum of Modern Art to take in her retrospective, Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971. That’s a reality that curators Klaus Biesenbach and Christophe Cherix don’t address in the exhibit, although hosting her works at all seems to say that they fall into the former group.

That isn’t to say that Ono’s art isn’t interesting. At the crux of her oeuvre is performance art, and that is on full display at MoMA. The works that will garner the most visitor interest—and Instagram shots—are a black spiral staircase that leads up toward a skylight that guests are invited to climb and Bag Piece, in which two performers climb under a black bag with the option of getting naked inside. While those are the works that offer the most obvious user interaction in the show, most of Ono’s witty art requires user participation—what is an instruction painting if not a call to arms? The downside, however, is that MoMA’s rules about touching—and thus interacting with—art forbid such acts, like climbing up a ladder to see a painting mounted feet overhead.

Still, watching visitors attempt to engage with the pieces adds another layer to the deeper meaning of Ono’s works. And on some level it seems that Ono’s favorite medium isn’t just performance art, but humanity itself. This idea is most evident in the show that first brought her to MoMA in 1971, Museum of Modern (F)Art, a self-curated and unauthorized exhibit in which a man stood in front of the MoMA entrance wearing a sandwich board, explaining that Ono had perfumed flies and released them in and around the museum. The stated goal was to have people follow the flies through the museum and the city. Deep in the back of MoMA’s current show is a video of a reporter asking people outside of MoMA about the 1971 show while it was happening. Some are baffled, others laugh, others jump right in, clamoring on about Ono’s art. During the hour this editor spent at MoMA this morning for a press preview, all of those reactions were again on full display.

Ono’s real gift is forcing people to notice. Whether they notice her, on the phone in bed with John Lennon in Bed-In; notice the problems with a society centered on war; or notice each other doesn’t seem to be of much importance, just that they notice something. “Everything that is around us all has miracles inside if you just uncover them, but uncovering does not come with prestige,” Ono explained of her missive in a press conference this morning. And for a self-identified optimist, learning something new, connecting with a new person, or uncovering a tiny truth about mankind is enough.

Posted by Art_Educator on