Yoko Ono: Pioneering Figure of Avant-Garde Art – Tate Modern

Yoko Ono Artlyst Lead

Tate Modern’s latest exhibition, “YOKO ONO: MUSIC OF THE MIND,” is the one career monument that has eluded the artist for years. We finally see her relationship with musician John Lennon as a footnote that has overshadowed her career for decades.

Ono’s groundbreaking and influential work explores conceptual and participatory art as well as Ono’s multidisciplinary practice spanning seven decades. Over 200 works are on display. The exhibition explores Ono’s radical approach to language, art, and participation, underscoring its enduring relevance in contemporary culture.

Installation view of PEACE is POWER, first realised 2017, in ‘Yoko Ono
Installation view of PEACE is POWER, first realised 2017, in ‘Yoko Ono

At the heart of Ono’s artistic vision are ideas expressed poetically, humorously, and profoundly. The exhibition delves into her early experimentation with ‘instruction pieces,’ compelling readers to imagine, experience, or complete the work through written directives. From simple verbs like “FLY” or “TOUCH” to more complex tasks, each instruction aims to unlock the reader’s imagination. Rare glimpses into Ono’s loft studio in New York and her first solo exhibition reveal the genesis of these instruction pieces, while the display of her groundbreaking anthology, “Grapefruit,” offers insight into her early conceptual explorations.

The show also explores Ono’s pivotal years in London during the 1960s, where she immersed herself in a countercultural milieu alongside artists and musicians. Key installations from her Indica and Lisson Gallery exhibitions, alongside banned works like “Film No. 4 (Bottoms),” shed light on her participatory art and anti-war activism. Visitors can engage with works like “White Chess Set,” which challenges players to remember the positions of their pieces, embodying Ono’s stance against conflict.

Themes of peace, feminism, and activism thread through Ono’s work, from her childhood experiences during World War II to her Films like “FLY” and “Freedom” offer poignant reflections on these themes, while feminist anthems like “Sisters O Sisters” and “Woman Power” underscore Ono’s commitment to empowering women.

Yoko Ono, Add color (Refugee boat)

Yoko Ono, Add color (Refugee boat)

Beyond the confines of the gallery space, Ono’s activism extends into the public sphere. Projects like “Acorns for Peace” and the iconic “WAR IS OVER!” billboard campaign demonstrate her use of art as a tool for social change. The exhibition also features recent initiatives like “Add Colour (Refugee Boat),” inviting visitors to reflect on issues of crisis and displacement.

The culmination of the exhibition is the participatory installation “My Mommy Is Beautiful,” inviting visitors to contribute photographs and messages celebrating motherhood. Ono’s influence extends even further across Tate Modern’s building and landscape, with interventions like “PEACE is POWER” adorning gallery windows and the interactive “Wish Tree” inviting passers-by to share their wishes for peace.

“YOKO ONO: MUSIC OF THE MIND” is not just a retrospective; it’s a survey of the enduring impact of Ono’s visionary art and activism. In a world fraught with challenges, Ono’s work is a beacon of hope, inspiring us to imagine a more harmonious and compassionate future.

Yoko Ono, the enigmatic artist and activist, has etched her mark on contemporary culture, challenging conventions and sparking conversations far beyond traditional artistry’s confines. Born in Tokyo in 1933, Ono’s trajectory is as multifaceted as her artistic oeuvre.

Ono’s early years were marked by a fusion of East and West, a duality that would later infuse her creative endeavours. Traversing between Japan and the United States, Ono’s exposure to diverse cultures and philosophies laid the groundwork for her distinctive artistic vision.

In the 1960s, Ono emerged as a central figure in the avant-garde movement, igniting the imaginations of audiences worldwide with her boundary-pushing conceptual works. Her marriage to John Lennon catapulted her into the spotlight, yet her artistic merit and unwavering commitment to peace and social justice defined her legacy.

Central to Ono’s artistic practice is exploring the intersection between art and activism, challenging societal norms and advocating for transformative change. From her seminal work “Cut Piece” to her provocative “Grapefruit” series, Ono’s art transcends conventional boundaries, inviting viewers to reconsider their perceptions of reality.

Beyond her artistic endeavours, Ono’s unwavering commitment to peace has galvanised movements and inspired generations. Her seminal collaboration with Lennon, “Imagine,” remains an enduring anthem for hope and unity in a world fraught with division.

Yet, Ono’s impact extends far beyond art and music. A tireless advocate for human rights and environmental sustainability, she continues to lend her voice to causes that resonate with her ethos of compassion and empathy.

As Ono celebrates more than eight decades of artistic innovation and social activism, her legacy endures as a testament to the transformative power of art to transcend borders and inspire change. In a world fraught with uncertainty, Yoko Ono stands as a beacon of hope, reminding us of the profound capacity of art to shape our collective consciousness and propel us towards a more harmonious future.


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