When Yoko Ono Took on MoMA


Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971, on view at the Museum of Modern Art last September, has as its point of departure the infamous “one-woman show” that Ono declared herself to be having back in 1971 at MoMA and which she titled Museum of Modern (F)art. It was a kind of avant-garde guerilla action. When people arrived at the museum back then, there was no evidence of her work except for a sign that advised those who read it that she had earlier released flies inside the museum, and people were invited to recognize them as they dispersed about New York City. There is in this official one-woman show much more evidence of her art, especially her work within the Fluxus art movement, which was once described by its originator, George Macuinas, who also served as Ono’s mentor, as a “fusion of Spike Jones, vaudeville, gag, children’s games, and Duchamp.”

In 1989, I interviewed Ono for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, for which I was executive editor. During our conversation, we reminisced about her artistic endeavors during the years highlighted in the MoMA show. “I’m just amazed that I did some of the things I did without fearing the consequences,” she told me. “They could have been dangerous. For example, I was in Paris once doing a show, and one of my paintings was sort of a performance piece in which the object was to shake hands. The canvas was huge and had a hole in it through which I stuck my arm and extended my hand to the people in the gallery. It was meant as a very friendly kind of painting. But one woman just bit into my finger. I never expected that kind of reaction. It was very painful.”

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