Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Yoko Ono, Visionary

By Levi Asher on Sunday, February 17, 2013 11:46 pm

The last time I saw Yoko Ono in concert, which was just a year ago, I was handed a small blue plastic puzzle piece in a small fabric bag as I entered the club. It was a very Yoko Ono gesture, and I'm sure the piece symbolized a lot of things: the sky, world peace, an artist's anxiety in facing an audience.

Yoko Ono is a brave performer, but her anxiety and shyness is often evident when she stands on stage. It must be this shyness that drives her exhibitionism and displays of aggression; as a young experimental artist (before she met John Lennon), she created her famous "Cut Piece" (it's described in Ellen Pearlman's recent book Nothing and Everything) in which she invited viewers to cut off pieces of her clothes while she sat still. This gesture wouldn't have been as moving as it was if her anxiety were not so palpable on her face as she sat.

Today is Yoko's 80th birthday, and she remains highly active as a pacifist, musician and public philosopher, her positive message never wavering over time. Many people think of her career as a joke or refuse to take her seriously, but she is one of the few living public figures today (Nicholson Baker is another) whose courage reminds me of Henry David Thoreau. Her life's work and amazing career is now the subject of a new art book and authorized biography, Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies by Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky.

If you buy only one expensive coffee-table book a year, this book would be a good choice for it. Happy birthday from the world to Yoko Ono! We're lucky to have you here.

2 Responses to "Yoko Ono, Visionary"

by meeah on

thanx for the heads up on this book..

It's nice to see Yoko getting some well-earned love and appreciation. She's always been an easy target for ridicule so inextricably linked as she is to someone so beloved by the mass culture. If being with Lennon was a blessing in terms of bringing her fame, it's also been a curse in bringing her to the attention of people who can't hope to understand her work or the art-historical context in which it exists.

She has always struck me as a sincere, engaged, well-meaning, and generous soul. If only we all could be as full of life at 40--heck at 20!--as she is at 80, the world would be a so much more interesting place...

I think Yoko gets a bad rap and I'm glad, after years of being badmouthed by Beatles fans, she's finally being understood. I don't like her music all that much, but I've largely enjoyed the quirky purity of her films and her conceptual art (yes, even "Cut Piece"), which I remember checking out with some friends at San Francisco MOMA about a decade ago. My understanding is that she still saunters into McNally Jackson from time to time and asks the employees if they have any books on peace and politics: it's almost as if her good will is permanently stalled in her twenties. I mean, how many people in their seventies and eighties still maintain that sense of wonder? I think Yoko's bravery has much to do with her faith in people and principles that are optimistic beyond any realm of reality. Yoko's belief has always been a good counterpoint to my own cynical "get off my lawn" moments. She makes me smile and reminds me that amity and unity can be found in the strangest and unlikeliest places.

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