Yoko Ono: The Music of the Mind

Un’importante retrospettiva rivendica la carriera di questa artista multidisciplinare e instancabile attivista per la pace, che è stata bersaglio di critiche a causa della sua presunta influenza sulla separazione dei Beatles.

Elena Livorni

Bandera UK
Sarah Davison

Speaker (UK accent)

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Long before marrying John Lennon in 1969 and becoming, in the public mind at least, the woman who broke up the Beatles, Yoko Ono was already a renowned artist. Born into privilege in Tokyo in 1933, Ono was the daughter of an international banker and a musician. Before the age of ten, she had attended elite schools in Japan, been taken to the finest concerts and spent time in the United States. In 1945, she and her family lived through two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, which ended World War Two. Her life was drastically affected when she and her family found themselves exiled to the Japanese countryside, where food was scarce. These experiences proved pivotal in Ono’s life and would radically influence her life and art.

471 Yoko Ono Cordon


From early on in her career, Ono’s art has been marked by her staunch aversion to establishment and mainstream ideas. She was the first female student accepted into the philosophy department in Gakushuin University in Tokyo, but she left after two years because she found the institution restrictive. In 1953, she moved to the US and attended Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts school in New York State, where she began to further develop her social justice-oriented ideas. Yoko Ono emerged onto the art scene in the early 1960s, a turbulent time marked by an irreverent attitude to once-revered institutions. 


In 1971, Yoko Ono created and ran an ad announcing her one-woman show in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), one of the premier art institutions in the world. The ad was a photo of herself outside the museum, holding a placardwith the F lined up next to the word “art” so that it read “(f)art.” To accompany the ad, she made a film in which she interviewed people, asking them if they’d seen her one-woman show. This is one of Ono’s  most iconic, tongue-in-cheekworks, given that the show did not actually exist. 

Peace Activism 

Yoko Ono’s art is filled with messages of peace in response to her lived trauma of war. Many of her pieces, especially those created from 1966 to 1971, reflect such messages. During these years she moved from New York to London, where she connected with artists, musicians and writers, including John Lennon, her soon-to-be husband and long-term artistic and activist partner. The couple became known for their activism and campaigns for peace and unity, such as the so-called 'bed-ins' they enacted during their honeymoon in 1969: one at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam, and another at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. These were non-violent protests similar to the sit-ins of anti-war protest. The couple invited the press into their suite and held conferences on world peace from their bed. 


Since her early days in New York City in the 1960s as part of the group of artists called Fluxus, Yoko Ono has been breaking down the barrier between audience and spectator in art. Many of Yoko Ono’s pieces require the participation of the audience. In keeping with her irreverence, the participation she asks of her spectators can often be rough and seemingly destructive towards her art, the opposite of what one would normally expect of an experience in an art museum. For instance, in her first solo exhibition in July 1961 at the AG Gallery on the Upper East Side of New York, she asked spectators to drop water on canvases and step on her paintings. In another famous performance called Cut Piece, audience members were invited to come onstage and cut clothes off her body. 

Diverse Mediums

For seven decades, Yoko Ono’s art has touched on anti-war protests, early feminist movements and environmental issues using a great variety of methods and techniques, from performance to multimedia, photography, film or music. Regardless of the medium, however, Ono has always been unfailinglycommitted to social justice. Always conceptually tied to real world goings-on, her body of work is a response to contemporary history from World War Two to third wave feminism. And although her various artistic mediums have evolved over time, Yoko Ono remains wholly irreverent.  

Music of the Mind 

The impressive Tate Modern in London, a former power station on the South Bank of the River Thames, is hosting an extensive retrospective of Yoko Ono’s life and career. The multidisciplinary show, entitled Yoko Ono: The Music of the Mind spans seven decades and features over two hundred original works by the artist. The exhibition guides visitors through all phases of Ono’s artistic career, from her involvement with the avant-garde Fluxus group in New York to her five years embedded in London’s counterculture in the late 1960s. It reflects the vast array of mediums used by Ono and visitors are encouraged to interact with select pieces. Among them, Add Colour (Refugee Boat) invites visitors to add paint to white gallery walls and a white boat as a means to consider urgent issues of crisis and displacement, or My Mommy Is Beautiful centres on a fifteen-metre-long wall of canvases on which visitors can attach photographs of their mothers and share personal messages. 

As exhibition curator Juliet Bingham explains, Ono employs various mediums as “all different expressions of the same idea, which draws the mind from an ordinary gesture to notions of transience, the immaterial and the ephemeral.” Ono’s art, she says, invites us to “imagine and to whisper a call to action, a provocation to change the world, one wish at a time.”  

www.tate.org.uk (Until September 1)



Questo articolo appartiene al numero June 2024 della rivista Speak Up.

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