Tuesday 3 December 2013

Half-a-Wind Show, Yoko Ono

Half-a-Wind Show, Yoko Ono - a Retrospective, at Louisiana Contemporary, Copenhagen.

A leading avant-garde artist and pioneer, a feminist who, ironically, has been often defined in relation to her famous husband, referred to as 'the world's most famous unknown artist', Yoko Ono is a unique figure not only in the art world but also in the peace and feminist movements. Very few people are aware of the work she has created or of the important pioneering role her early performances and conceptual works of the 1960s played, and continue to play, in the development of contemporary art.
A lot of her art is based on ideas and on verbal instructions for actions. Much of it is an expression of harsh social criticism motivated by feminist concerns.
She forged a fundamental departure from the convention of the 'work of art' created by the artist at a fixed point in time. She developed her concept of art during the era of the 'dematerialization of the work of art' and she was part of the movement known as Fluxus whose aim was to 'purge the world of bourgeois sickness, intellectual, professional and commercialised culture... to promote a revolutionary flood and tide of art, to promote living art, anti-art, promote non-art reality'.
An integral part of her art was asking for viewer participation in a new way.
We are all Water, 1967 and 2006
'Water is one of the most important constants in our lives. We are also carriers of water. 90% of us is water. In pagan times, water is emotion, love ... 'Water thinks, feels and heals'.

water talk 

you are water
I'm water
we're all water in different containers
that's why it's so easy to meet
someday we'll evaporate together

but even after the water's gone
we'll probably point out to the containers
and say, 'that's me there, that one'.
we're container minders

Water Event, joint art work first featured at her first museum exhibition at the Everson Museum in 1971.

Numerous friends and acquaintances of the artist were invited to participate in this event: they were asked to provide containers for water, in to which she added water, or, let's say, conceptual water. Water is described as an element of communication and unity.

You and Me, 1966, 2013

Air Dispensers, 1971/2013

Collecting air, capturing it as a precious commodity, and offering it for sale.

Balance Piece, 1997 (kitchen furniture and utensils, magnets)

Striving for a 'balance of the mind' in accordance with the basic principles of Zen Buddhism, for tranquillity and self-awareness: a process of acceptance and of balancing opposites and attempting to bring them into equilibrium.

Looking at the photograph I took, I am struck by the black and white nature of the installation, something that I was not particularly aware of, at the time.

Half A Room, 1967

Exactly that - half of everything.

Touch Me, 2008, 2009

looking closer

and again

and again,

Moving Mountains, 2013.

This work was conceived especially for the exhibition in Copenhagen. Visitors were invited to get into the provided cloth bags and form moving sculptures, on their own or with others. Ono's song Moving Mountains was being played. During the course of the exhibition, photographs were taken of the moving sculptures and displayed on the walls.

Ceiling Painting (the white ladder on the right of the first exhibition space, featured here). 1966

An interactive installation.  The viewers were invited in his or her mind to climb to the top of the ladder, where a magnifying glass hang from a frame on the ceiling. The viewer used the reading glass to discover an instruction beneath the framed sheet of glass: it said YES. It was through this that she and John Lennon met.


This was our gateway from the main gallery space to the ones at the back

and then we could climb up the steps behind the two round openings and look through to the first space

Morning Beams, (1997 and 2012)
'One day I went into my kitchen in the morning and found that the room was filled with all sorts of light beams emanating from various objects' .
This was my favourite piece - it was awesome.

Four Spoons, 1988, (patinated bronze)

A friend casually suggested I should do some objects in bronze. The suggestion was so offensive to me that my smile froze and tears ran down my cheek. 'This man doesn't know anything about my work', I thought. I realised that I had an absolute fear of bronze. But why? Then the thought of the sixties flashed in my mind. The air definitely had a special shimmer then. We were breathless from the pride and joy of being alive. I remembered carrying a glass key to open the sky.

I thought I had moved forward right into the eighties and further. But a part of me was still holding onto the sixties sky. The eighties is an age of commodity and solidity. We don't hug strangers on the street and we are also not breathless. When the two big boys shake hands at the summit, maybe it's better that they exchange bronze keys rather than glass ones. In my mind bronze started to have a warm shimmer instead of the dead weight I had associated it with. Bronze is o.k., I thought. Eighties is o.k. It has to do. One day, I would become a person who could handle bronze with grace and ease'.


Untitled, 1988

'Artists must not create more objects, the world is full of everything it needs. I'm bored with artists who make big lumps of sculpture and occupy a big space with them and think they have done something creative'. (1971)

Glass Keys to Open the Skies, 1967


Vertical Memory, 1997
'It was created by putting together photographs of my father, my husband and my son. I selected photographs of them facing the same direction, overlapped them and morphed it. Every photo represents the man who was looking over me in the precise moment when I went through an important situation in my life'.


'I remember being born and looking into his eyes. He picked me up and slapped my bottom. I screamed'.


'I was two-and-a-half when I arrived in San Francisco on a liner to meet him for the first time. He came on board, kissed my mother and then looked at me looking up at him'.

 Amaze, 1971 
Walking around the maze was very disconcerting as you could not quite tell the difference between the people walking around with you and the people outside the maze, looking in. Great fun.

Cricket Memories, 1998
'This work is a metaphor for catastrophic loss in our lives - referring not just to one time or one country, but all countries - all lives, and the horrors committed by one people against another.'


We were invited to write our own Cricket Memories.


Cut Piece, performed at least six times, first in 1964 and last in 2003.

There was no performance in Louisiania when we viewed the exhibition, as Yoko Ono was not there, but this photograph was part of the exhibition, given that this was a retrospective of her work.

Even though the 70s are seen as the golden age of performance art, with artists like Marina Abramovic, the pioneer phase of this art dates to the early 60s with Yoko Ono playing an important part in this. It is therefore odd that her contributions in this area are completely neglected.

This is what she said about Cut Piece in 1974:

'Traditionally the artist's ego is in the artist's work. In other words, the artist must give the artist's ego to the audience. I had always wanted to produce work without ego in it. I was thinking of this motif more and more and the result was Cut Piece. Instead of giving the audience what the artist chooses to give, the artist gives what the audience chooses to take. That is to say, you cut and take whatever part you want; that was my feeling about its purpose. I went onto the stage wearing the best suit I had. To think that it would be OK to use the cheapest clothes because it was going to be cut up anyway would be wrong: it's against my intentions. I was poor at that time, and it was hard. This event I repeated in several different places, and my wardrobe got smaller and smaller. However, when I sat on the stage in front of the audience, I felt that this was my genuine contribution. This is how I really felt. The audience was quiet and still, and I felt that everyone was holding their breath. While I was doing it, I was staring into the room. I felt like I was praying. I also felt that I was willingly sacrificing myself'.'

Another remark she made calls attention to the latent violence to which she was exposed in her performance of Cut Piece: 'One person came on stage... He took the pair of scissors and made a motion to stab me. He raised his hand, with the scissors in it, and I thought he was going to stab me. But the hand was just raised there and was totally still... with the scissors... threatening me.'

Body art, a form of art in which the artist's body becomes a tool, was dominated by male artists at the time, artists like Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein. The idea of a young woman allowing herself to be 'undressed' with scissors is a testimony to the radical character of Ono's art as well as her feminist concerns. In 1969 she collaborated with John Lennon in writing Woman is the Niger of the World.


Ono wrote in 1971 during the Cannes Film Festival: 'Violent revolutionaries' thinking is very close to establishment-type thinking and ways of solving problems. I like to fight the establishment by using methods that are so far removed from establishment-type thinking that the establishment doesn't know how to fight back'.

The films she made address the political issues that are a benchmark of her work.

Bottoms, 1966

This film consists of a sequence of the bottoms of a group of New York artists and friends of Yoko Ono. She wanted to 'expand consciousness' by enabling viewers to view this part of the body from a new point of view as opposed to the eroticised images we are bombarded with every day which invariably present women as sex objects.

Works outside the gallery space:

White Chess Set, Chess Set for Playing As Long as You Can Remember where All Your Pieces Are, 1966

Wish Tree, 1996

Viewers wrote a wish on a piece of paper and attached it to the tree.


Yoko Ono, ed.  Ingrid Pfeiffer and Max Hollein.


  1. You must have quite an archive with all your extensive and informative posts. Yoko Ono has been a largely under-rated artist, probably because she was John Lennon's wife. But she has had much more regard in recent years.

    1. There are two reasons why I keep my blog, Olga. As a record of some of the things I have done, but also, as a way of learning about art. So, I do quite a bit of research on some of the exhibitions I go to and this is why some of the posts get only written a long time after I've been to see the exhibition. I did an evening course on the history of art at the University of Warwick last year, and would love to start a very part-time degree in the history of art, but it's so expensive now. (I think I have told you this before, I am not sure). I have not given up though, and I am still investigating courses and ways of financing. In the meantime, I read about and around some of the artists whose work I see. I enjoy this very much indeed.

      As for Yoko Ono, I agree with you: being married to John Lennon did not do much for her reputation and it's such an irony given how fiercely independent she is. He was very aware of that though - I remember that he used to refer to himself as a house husband, and I remember thinking 'how cool is that'!

  2. I think that writing a blog is an excellent way of corralling one's thoughts about a subject. It's great that one can include photographs and links - how much I would have loved this when I was at university! It is also brilliant that others can enjoy looking over your shoulder, so to speak!

    I do hope that you manage to find a way to pursue your studies. A friend of mine attended a course on appreciating contemporary art at Rewley House, Wellington Square, Oxford and enjoyed that very much. She had had to give up doing a part time art degree at Winchester School of Art and wanted something serious to compensate. https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/courses/results.php?search=history+of+art&submitbutton=Search&multisearch=single&search_startdate=Starting+on+or+after+%28date%29
    I don't know how much those courses cost, and they are probably not as academic as you want - and you probably know about them already. I think it is unfortunate that all those lovely affordable extra curricular classes which universities used to provide are now either no longer available, or cost a small fortune.

  3. This is exactly what I am finding about doing the blog, Olga - it really helps me in sorting out my ideas and what I am learning.

    The course I did last year, an introduction to the history of art, was part of Warwick's Department for Lifelong Learning and I got a lot out of it. They had nothing else on art, and I could not find anything else. Their part-time degree would cost me £1500 per module, which would mean the whole degree would cost £37,000 - crazy money. So, I am doing a course on Feminism and Gender in Literature this year and I am enjoying it a lot, but it's art that I want to pursue. I have found a course at Brookes University in Oxford that costs half of what the course at Warwick would, and I might do that next year, but it's still an awful lot of money.

    Thanks for the link. I have their catalogue and I am considering their short courses as well. We will see...

  4. Thank you so MUCH for posting this extensive piece. It's such a delight to be given not just a single photograph and a few descriptive paragraphs, but almost a virtual tour of the exhibit! Yoko Ono has long fascinated me, not so much for her marital connection, but rather for the pieces I've picked up here and there about her artistic bent. I really enjoyed going to the exhibit with you, it was almost as good as being there. I am not given to writing (or speaking) overly in superlatives, but I find your clarity of presentation is reaching a part of me I thought long walled off. I am enjoying everything I've encountered so far.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Els and I'm glad you enjoy the blog. It was a real pleasure reading your comments first thing this morning. As I said to Olga in the previous comment, blogging helps me sort my ideas out about an exhibition and then I have a record that I can go back to whenever I want.

      Like you, I have been fascinated by Yoko Ono's work for a long time now, so seeing this exhibition was a real treat - a lot to think about but it was also fun: a rare thing.