By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
Perhaps most impressively, the show reveals the scope of Ono's work and her never-flagging desire to challenge our perceptions. A pioneer installation such as Half a Room (1967) is full of ordinary objects that have been halved. Corner Painting (c. 1967-71) is a small blank canvas in a gilded frame that wraps into a corner.
Some of Ono's notorious film work is shown in small, darkened galleries. Film No. 4 (Bottoms) (1966-67) is an 80-minute black-and-white piece that features close-ups of 365 sets of buttocks shot as the subjects walk in place on a special platform. I confess I didn't stay for the entire movie, but what I saw is goofy fun as well as an especially unusual study in form and texture. In the 25-minute color Film No. 13 (Fly) (1970), the camera chronicles several flies as they crawl all over a naked woman's body, accompanied by some of Ono's banshee vocals, which Rolling Stone critic Jonathan Cott once described as evoking "the feeling of being inside one's own body cavities."
Another film, by documentarians Albert and David Maysles, records what the wall panel characterizes as Ono's "most important performance work," Cut Piece, which was first staged in Kyoto in 1964. Here it's seen in a 1965 performance at the Carnegie Recital Hall, where audience members were invited onstage to cut away pieces of Ono's clothing as she sat impassively, until she was nearly nude at the end.
This sweeping exhibition, which includes more than 150 works created over four decades, also features photographic documentation of some of Ono's other performance work, some of it done in connection with the Fluxus movement, some of it in collaboration with Lennon. There's a video of one of the couple's "bed-ins" for peace soon after their marriage, for instance, and at the entrance to the show is one of their big War Is Over!posters from the late 1960s.
There's also a wall of 72 extraordinarily delicate ink-on-Japanese paper drawings executed from 1995 to 1999, from something called the Franklin Summer series. The intricate, largely abstract drawings are built up with countless tiny dots, according to the posted description, "composed while conversing with others, riding airplanes, or talking on the phone." They show a softer, more fragile Ono than many of us may have seen before.
This vast and varied show, in fact, made me so hungry for more information on Ono and her work that I sprang for a copy of the exhaustive 352-page exhibition catalog, which also includes a new CD with about 24 minutes of Ono's music, from her trademark caterwauling to more subdued and accessible material. This recommendation comes from someone who, aside from a high school fascination with Grapefruit, always considered Ono interesting but marginal.