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Indepth Arts News:

2001-07-14 until 2001-09-16
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Houston, TX, USA

Y E S YOKO ONO, the first American retrospective of the work of pioneering avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, will open at the Contemporary Arts Museum on July 14, 2001 and be on view through September 16, 2001. In her prolific 40-year career Ono has embraced a wide range of media, defying traditional boundaries and creating new forms of artistic expression. The exhibition is comprised of over 150 works from the 1960s to the present with a focus on the earlier period, and includes objects and installations; language works-such as instruction pieces and scores; film and video; music; and documentation of her performance art.

The exhibition offers the first comprehensive reevaluation of Ono's work, exploring her position within the postwar international avant-garde, and her critical and influential role in originating forms of avant-garde art, music, film and performance. Y E S YOKO ONO examines her early and central role in Fluxus, an avant-garde art movement that developed in New York in the early 1960s; her important contributions to Conceptual Art in New York, London and Tokyo; her concerts; experimental films; vocal recordings; public art, including works made with John Lennon; and recent works, including interactive installations and site-specific art. Such avant-garde figures as John Cage, George Maciunas, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, Andy Warhol and Ornette Coleman collaborated with Ono, and work from these collaborations is also represented.

Yoko Ono's contribution is not specific to any genre; rather, it is her capacity to make forms beyond and between genres-to crossover from high to low, underground to pop-that distinguishes her extraordinary creations, says Alexandra Munroe, Director of Japan Society Gallery and curator of the exhibition. Her use of chance and minimalism, and her investigation of everyday life have played a key role in the transmission of Asian thought to the international art world.

The exhibition title, Y E S YOKO ONO, refers to the interactive installation known as Ceiling Painting, an important work shown at Ono's historic 1966 Indica Gallery show in London. The viewer is invited to climb a white ladder, where at the top a magnifying glass, attached by a chain, hangs from a frame on the ceiling. The viewer uses the reading glass to discover a block letter instruction beneath the framed sheet of glass-it says YES. It was through this work that Ono met her future husband and longtime collaborator, John Lennon.

Born in Tokyo in 1933 into a prominent banking family, part of Japan's social and intellectual elite, Ono received rigorous training in classical music, German lieder and Italian opera. She attended an exclusive school where her schoolmates included Japan's present emperor, Akihito, and the future world-renowned novelist, Yukio Mishima, who later committed ritual seppuku to protest Japan's Westernization. Ono, raised partly in America, witnessed Japan's devastation in World War II, and by the time she entered Gakushuin University in 1952 as its first female philosophy student, she was swept up by the intellectual climate of the postwar Japanese avant-garde. This movement was characterized by a spirit of rebellion against all orthodoxy, a yearning for individual self-expression, and a desire for spiritual freedom in a landscape reduced to absolute nothingness by the ravages of warfare.

Disillusioned with academic philosophy, Ono left Japan to join her family in New York, where her father was an executive for Bank of Tokyo, America. Attending Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, she soon gravitated to the vibrant art community of lower Manhattan. At the time, non-Western cultures, especially those of China and Japan, were inspiring new forms of artistic expression. Ono was welcomed as a representative of that Eastern sensibility that found beauty and art in everyday existence and chance events, and favored artistic expression and thought through interactive participation.

A loose association of these artists was eventually formed under the name of Fluxus. The group experimented with mixing poetry, music and the visual arts, through a wide spectrum of activities including concerts and exhibitions. As a member of Fluxus Ono presented her early works, launching a career that would take her back to Japan, where she became an active member of the Tokyo avant-garde, and again to New York, and then to London, where the 1966 Indica Gallery show, that included Ceiling Painting, took place.

In the decades since the Indica show, Ono has continued to enlarge the boundaries of her art in diverse media. After her marriage to John Lennon in 1969, she collaborated with him on a number of projects in music, creating a bridge between the avant-garde and rock music and culture in releases such as Unfinished Music for Two Virgins (1968), Wedding Album (1969), and Double Fantasy (1980). Their happenings, Bed-Ins for Peace, and the billboard campaign, War is Over! If You Want It, were landmark projects created to promote world peace, a continuing theme in their work together.

During the 1980s, influenced by the rampant materialism of the decade, Ono revisited some of her 1960s objects, transforming works that were originally light and transparent into bronze, symbolizing a shift from what she calls the Sixties sky to the new age of commodity and solidity. In the 1990s, Ono's prolific output of interactive installations, site-specific works, Internet projects, concerts and recordings has been widely in represented numerous venues across Europe, America, Japan and Australia.

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