Yoko Ono is one of the most famous personalities of our time. For many, her celebrity status is forever linked to her marriage and musical partnership with Rock & Roll legend John Lennon gunned down in 1980 by a deranged fan outside the Dakota, his residence in New York City. However, Ono is a creative force in her own right. A visionary artist with a career that now spans over fifty years, she has been associated with Conceptual art, performance, and the “happenings” of the 1960s – one of the first women to be involved in the movements that challenged all the old conventions of art and society. A post-war artist who lived at various times in San Francisco, New York, and Tokyo, she grew up speaking both English and Japanese and received classical musical instruction, primarily in piano and voice from an early age. Her work is a journey into the core meaning of art infused with a strong social message lending itself to political engagement.
With this in mind the Phi Foundation of Montreal is presenting a retrospective of her career and activism. Yoko Ono: LIBERTÉ CONQUÉRANTE/GROWING FREEDOM which runs to Sept. 15 showcases Yoko’s work as a solo artist while simultaneously highlighting her collaboration with Lennon. This major exhibition consists of two parts: The Instructions of Yoko Ono is located at 451 Saint Jean Street and dedicated to her ‘instruction’ pieces over the last six decades. These are artworks that ask questions about the concept of art while encouraging the participation of spectators in its material realization. Among the works presented are text-based instructions such as Lighting Piece (1955), as well as participatory works including Mending Piece (1966), Horizontal Memories (1997), and Arising (2013). A pioneer who has broken down artistic boundaries her interdisciplinary art installations bridge imagination, action, and participation in unique and thought-provoking ways.
The second part The Art of John and Yoko is to be found at the Phi-foundation’s other building at 465 Saint Jean Street and relates to Yoko’s collaborative art projects with her late husband John Lennon. Among these are photos, memorabilia, and a short film which variously touch on the Acorn project, the War is Over peace campaign, and the 1969 Montreal Bed-in for Peace marking its fifty-year anniversary. The anti-Vietnam war anthem “Give Peace a Chance “written by John Lennon (credited to Lennon–McCartney), was performed with Yoko Ono at the Bed-in at the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel and released as a single the same year by the Plastic Ono Band on Apple Records. It features musician Tommy Smothers accompanying the flower-power couple on his guitar. High-profile Bed-in guests included “Acid-dropping” psychologist Timothy Leary – he coined the counterculture-era catchphrase “Turn-on, tune-in, drop-out” – beat poet Allen Ginsberg whose poem “Howl” is considered to be one of the great works of American literature, Brit pop star darling Petula Clark best known for the hit songs “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” and “Downtown”, and controversial cartoonist Al Capp whose satiric comic strip “Li’l Abner” made him a household name. Journalists, Hare Krishnas and some very lucky fans who caught a break and got into the Lennons’ suite were all part of the scene.
The exhibition also includes a reading room. Traces: Meditations gives visitors the opportunity to explore Ono’s work by making catalogs, magazines, and books on different themes available. The texts explore her early career, involvement with avant-garde artistic movements of the 60s, worldwide influences, and recent work. Ultimately, the Traces space offers visitors a moment to pause and reflect highlighting as it does the introspective dimension of Ono’s art.