Thursday, September 17, 2015

Yoko Ono: One Woman Show at the Museum of Modern Art

“Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971” at MoMA exhibits an oeuvre of painting, sculpture, film, performance, and music by Yoko Ono. The exhibition appears focused on artistic merits, but closer inspection reveals otherwise. Yoko Ono’s pieces are direct—you are told to forget it; the lobotomy needle awaits. You are told to step onto the floor painting, to touch each other— and you reach nervously for the closest stranger.

Although interactive elements were included, (notably Bag Piece (1964)) I could not ignore the barrier between what could and could not be touched. Yoko Ono’s conceptual art completes in the viewer’s mind, but the unperformed pieces cause confusion. Participation in White Chess Set (1966) cannot occur in the guarded work. Visitors can ascend To See the Sky (2015) staircase, while Ceiling Painting (1966) ladder is off-limits? Although these curation choices are likely for protection, learning that John Lennon engaged in the latter and Painting to Hammer a Nail (1961/1966), it becomes clear that celebrity also usurps artistic intention. These regulations defeat Yoko Ono’s message, and instead of breaking down the walls of the museum, we are left in the same space continuing to keep our hands to ourselves amongst historical artifacts.


  1. I absolutely agree that the lack of available participation for the audience was a huge detriment to the show. Yoko's work relied heavily not only on audience participation but on chance and moment to moment changes. Only the staircase and the bag piece were able to be experienced even close to how they were originally intended (although participants in the bag piece were not told to disrobe, and I only saw single-participant performances). I feel that even if MoMA had hired trained performers to interact with more of the pieces it would have been more authentic and interesting than simply looking at relics.

  2. Truthfully, I barely considered the fact that one could hardly engage physically with Ono's more interactive pieces. I had never seen a show featuring her work, and was consequently distracted by my newfound attention (and appreciation) for the minutia of everyday life, for which she was entirely responsible. However, regarding your point about her "touch" piece, I am now reminded of the particular disappointment I felt when I realized that I couldn’t feel comfortable touching the other participants in the room. In this moment, I acknowledge that the museum experience can, at times, only provide a contrived version of the artist’s intended message.