Yoko Ono, born in 1933 is in the winter of her career, as artist, author, and peace activist. She is finally receiving the respect for her body of work in avant-garde art, music and filmmaking. Her marriage to John Lennon has often over shadowed her contribution to contemporary art and unlike her nemesis Yayoi Kusama she has never received the accolade which is long overdue . Ono brought feminism to the forefront in her art and music ,which prefigured conceptual art and New Wave music. Her groundbreaking exhibition in New York in 2001 re-established her reputation and she was rewarded by winning the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 2009 Venice Biennale.
Ono emegrated to the US at age 2 and brought to California. She returned to Japan before WWII and was caught up in the bombing. Ono went to school with Emperor Hirohito’s two sons. and was visited by the Emperor’s son Yoshi, visiting the boy’s school in defiance of the rules. In the early 50s she and her parents moved to New York. She attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she was particularly good at music, with her untamed creativity. She married a fellow Julliard student, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and moved to New York City. Her admiration of Franz Kafka, Vincent van Gogh, and Arnold Schönberg fertilized her intergration with the New York avant-garde scene.
In 1960 Yoko helped stage the now legendary loft events on Chambers Street. She also provided the loft for John Cage and his ground-braking classes of experimental music. Her collaboration with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Nam June Paik, George Maciunas and Fluxus has helped solidify her reputation as a serious artist. Yoko cut herself off from her parents and was on her own, working as a waitress, an apartment manager, and a music teacher in New York’s public schools. In 1962, after separating from Toshi, she gave in to her parents and returned to Japan. There she suffered from a clinical depression, and was locked up in a mental hospital. Anthony Cox went to Japan and managed to release Yoko from captivity. She married Cox in Tokyo the same year, and their daughter, Kyoko, was born in 1963. Cox became her artistic assistant. But in 1964 they separated and Cox returned to New York. Yoko joined him the same year with Kyoko. She dreamed up the idea for her work ‘Bottoms’ (1966). It was completed only after 365 friends and volunteers provided their naked buttocks for close-ups. Her ad was “Intelligent-looking bottoms wanted for filming. Possessors of unintelligent-looking ones need not apply.” Yoko promoted ‘Bottoms’ (1966) by being tied to a bronze lion in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Ono was one the first artists as early as 1964, to put language on the wall of the gallery. She often invited the viewer to finish the work. She was also one of the first artists to evolve Happenings into what has been accepted as Performance art. As a part of her exhibition, Ono will present SMILE, a large-scale project which will be exhibited at the Serpentine and online for the London 2012 Festival. Conceived as a way of connecting people across the world, the project invites people to upload and send an image of their smiles, to create a global anthology of portraits. Ono envisions that ‘all of the smiles… that are collected will be kept by the Serpentine Gallery as a record for the planet Earth. When people take part in the SMILE, they will receive their own smile to take home.’
Yoko met The Beatles’ icon John Lennon at her art exhibition in London in November 1966. At first they were impressed with each other’s minds and than profoundly attracted to each other. They soon married. Yoko lost her daughter Kyoko to her (ex-husband Cox who kidnapped her in 1971 and hid her under the name Rosemary in the cult commune, The Walk ) In 1998 Yoko and Kyoko reunited after 27 years. John and Yoko were together despite a two year break in their relationship. They nourished each other’s artistic nature with enough humor to survive through almost everything.This was to end with Lennons murder in New York in 1980.
Yoko Ono at the Serpentine Gallery will be part of the London 2012 Festival, a spectacular 12-week UK-wide celebration featuring world leading artists from 19 June to the final day of the Paralympic Games on 9 September 2012.