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Yoko Ono

Japanese-American Conceptual and Performance Artist, and Musician

Yoko Ono Photo
Movements and Styles: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance Art, Conceptual Art

Born: February 18, 1933 - Tokyo, Japan

"What I'm trying to do is make something happen by throwing a pebble into the water and creating ripples...I don't want to control the ripples."

Yoko Ono Signature

Summary of Yoko Ono

Well before her famous partnership with John Lennon, Yoko Ono was the "High Priestess of the Happening" and a pioneer in performance art. Drawing from an array of sources from Zen Buddhism to Dada, her pieces were some of the movement's earliest and most daring. With unprecedented radicalism, she rejected the idea that an artwork must be a material object. Many of her works consist merely of instructions. In Cloud Piece (1963) for example, she instructs us to imagine digging a hole in the garden, and putting clouds into it. Ono faced the considerable challenge of remaining visible as an artist, not just a rock star's wife. For brief periods, the media's intrusive presence stopped her from working altogether. Remarkably, however, she persisted in sustaining a career that was well-established before Lennon's arrival on the scene, and which deserves to be admired in its own right.

Key Ideas

Ono's fundamental contribution to the formation of Conceptual Art was involving the audience into the completion of the work. It is designed so that anyone can make it - a crucial dimension of its meaning.
Ono was one of the strongest feminist voices to emerge from the art world in the 60s. Her Cut Piece (1964), a first for feminist art performance, invited audience members to take turns cutting off her clothes using a pair of scissors. It also brought the audience into close contact with the artist, which was a new concept and crossed traditional boundaries.
A path-breaking force in eliminating boundaries among the arts, in the early 1960s, Ono opened her home to dancers, composers, and artists and encouraged them to work together. The building of interdisciplinary community is another great area of achievement in her career, and a fundamental aspect of her practice.
A pioneer in music as well as art, Ono was trained as a classical pianist. She was also steeped in Japanese Imperial music (Gagaku). Her familiarity with both traditions captivated experimental Western musicians La Monte Young and John Cage (Cage's 4'33'' is essentially a translation of the famous Zen koan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"). She in turn was influenced by them.
Experiences, events, and performances form the backbone of her artistic practice. In this respect she is the quintessential conceptual artist. Her work is designed to redirect our attention to ideas, instead of appearances.
Though her name has been unfairly associated with a woman who negatively affects a man's professional performance (Beatles fans often blame her for their breakup), Ono helped John become much more conceptual. She assisted him in moving away from the mainstream that the Beatles had previously inhabited, and encouraged him to develop an independent voice as a composer and musician.
Yoko Ono at an unveiling of a plaque in memory of John Lennon (2010)

Yoko Ono had a long career and was integral to many directions in art. She was always an active creator, known for saying "I thought art was a verb, rather than a noun."

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