Yoko Ono

born in Tokyo, Japan; lives in New York

Biography

Yoko Ono is an artist whose thought-provoking work challenges people’s understanding of art and the world around them. From the beginning of her career, she was a Conceptualist whose work encompassed performance, instructions, film, music, and writing.

Ono was born in Tokyo in 1933, and moved to New York in 1953, following her studies in philosophy in Japan. By the late 1950s, she had become part of New York City’s vibrant avant-garde activities. In 1960, she opened her Chambers Street loft, where she and La Monte Young presented a series of radical performances, and she exhibited realizations of some of her early conceptual works. In 1961, she had a one-person show of her Instruction Paintings at George Maciunas’ legendary AG Gallery in New York, and later that year, she performed a solo concert at Carnegie Recital Hall of revolutionary works involving movement, sound, and voice. She returned to Tokyo in 1962, where, at the Sogetsu Art Center, she extended her New York performance and exhibited her Instructions for Paintings. Ono performed Cut Piece in Kyoto and Tokyo in 1964, and published Grapefruit, a book of her collected conceptual instruction pieces. At the end of that year, she returned to New York, and in 1965, she performed Cut Piece during her concert at Carnegie Recital Hall, Bag Piece during a solo event for the Perpetual Fluxus Festival, and Sky Piece to Jesus Christ during the Fluxorchestra concert at Carnegie Recital Hall that September. She made the first version of Film No. 4 (Bottoms) in 1966, and realized a collaborative installation, The Stone, at the Judson Gallery. In the fall of 1966, she was invited to take part in the Destruction in Art Symposium in London, and later that year, held one-person exhibitions at the Indica Gallery, and the Lisson Gallery the following year. During this period, she also performed a number of concerts throughout England. Together with John Lennon in 1969, she realized Bed-In, and the worldwide WAR IS OVER ! (IF YOU WANT IT) campaign for peace. Yoko Ono created IMAGINE PEACE TOWER in 2007 as a permanent installation on Viðey Island, Iceland, dedicated to the memory of her late husband John Lennon. She continues to work tirelessly for peace with her IMAGINE PEACE campaign.

Today, Ono is widely recognized for her groundbreaking films and her radical music, recordings, concerts, as well as her performance art. Her films, Fly, RAPE, Film No. 4, to name a few, are considered classics of 20th century film, and her music has finally been acknowledged as the genesis of much of the new wave of musical forms that have circled the world.

Ono has exhibited her work throughout the world, including major touring exhibitions, biennales and triennales. In 2009, she received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement from the Venice Biennale. Amongst Ono’s major touring exhibitions, YES YOKO ONO (2000–2001), organized by the Japan Society in New York, traveled throughout the United States, Japan, Canada and Korea; YOKO ONO: HALF-A-WIND SHOW – A RETROSPECTIVE (2013–2014) traveled from Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, Kunsthalle Krems in Austria, then to Guggenheim Bilbao. YOKO ONO: ONE WOMAN SHOW, 1960–1971 opened in May 2015 at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, followed by one-person exhibitions at Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT), and Faurschou Foundation Beijing later that year. Ono’s first French retrospective, YOKO ONO: Lumière de L’aube was presented in 2016 at MAC Lyon; Ono’s permanent installation SKYLANDING, was then unveiled in Chicago’s Jackson Park, followed by a one-person exhibition at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece. In 2017, Ono’s works were highlighted in exhibitions including YOKO ONO: Four Works for Washington and the World at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Prospect.4 in New Orleans, as well as at the Tate Modern, C3A Centro de Creación Contemporánea in Cordoba (ongoing), and in her one-person exhibition, YOKO ONO: TRANSMISSION at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen. A new version of Ono’s work, ONOCHORD, was presented in 2018 at Henningsvaer Lighthouse in Lofoten, Norway, and other 2018–2019 exhibitions have included Double Fantasy – John & Yoko at the Museum of Liverpool, YOKO ONO: LOOKING FOR ... in Cambridge, England, YOKO ONO: PEACE is POWER at MdbK, Leipzig, Yoko Ono: Poetry, Painting, Music, Objects, Events and Wish Trees at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, YOKO ONO: LIBERTÉ CONQUÉRANTE at Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain in Montreal, Yoko Ono’s BELLS FOR PEACE (opening event) at Manchester International Festival, YOKO ONO: REMEMBERING THE FUTURE at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, Yoko Ono: The Sky Is Always Clear at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and YOKO ONO: ADD COLOR (REFUGEE BOAT) at Unter Dem U, in Dortmund. In 2019, Ono’s works have also been featured at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, MAXXI, Rome, and the Faurschou Foundation New York. Most recently, Ono’s one-person exhibition, YOKO ONO: THE LEARNING GARDEN OF FREEDOM opened on May 30, 2020 at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal.

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

See biography

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Music

Music

As the daughter of a banker who was also an accomplished concert pianist, Ono received »classical Western« piano and singing lessons. In the 1950s, she made contact with New York avant-garde musicians and composers such as Stefan Wolpe, John Cage, and David Tudor. In 1955, she developed her first concepts and stagings between music and performance. In 1960, avant-garde concerts organized by Yoko Ono and La Monte Young took place in her New York loft. The 1960s included some appearances and stagings in the context of Fluxus concerts. At that time, in the early 1960s, Ono didn’t yet make a clear distinction between musical and visual works. Instructions or Scores were acted out either by Ono herself or by others.

Through John Lennon, she came into contact with pop music from 1966 on. Numerous recordings and publications as an artist duo followed. Their first collective album was Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins from 1968, and Ono’s first solo album, Fly, appeared in 1971. Ono’s approach was characterized by her way of exhausting the spectrum of her voice between vocals and noise, something between screaming, coughing, and squawking.

In 1966, she began to distinguish between musical and visual works. The Plastic Ono Band was founded in 1969, one of the first supergroups with alternating members, including Ringo Star and Eric Clapton. Many singles and full-length records followed, as did performances, mostly together with John Lennon, like Live Peace in Toronto in 1969.

After Lennon’s death in 1980, Yoko Ono’s pop musical work went through many phases, deploying many syntheses and technical innovations. She increasingly published her music in digital format. Ono still plays numerous concerts. An exceptional feature of these concerts is the multiple collaborations with other musicians, for instance Sonic Youth, The Flaming Lips, Antony/Anohni, Rufus Wainwright, Peaches, and Lady Gaga.

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Author: David Newgarden

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In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Yoko Ono

Voice Piece for Soprano, 1961

MoMA, New York, summer 2010, with Yoko Ono, 2:25 min.

The Score for Voice Piece for Soprano (1961) is as follows:

»Scream – against the wind – against the wall – against the sky«


Everyone can interpret this piece themselves. Ono has performed it in various places, including as a participatory installation with open microphone in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Author:

David Newgarden