Yoko Ono, (Tokyo, 1933)
Nata a Tōkyō nel 1933, Yoko Ono è un’artista giapponese naturalizzata statunitense, divenuta celebre per la sua attività artistica e per essere stata collaboratrice e compagna di John Lennon.
Dalle origini alto borghesi, l’artista fu costretta a un periodo di povertà nel dopoguerra, per poi trasferirsi a New York insieme alla famiglia. Quì Yoko Ono subì immediatamente il fascino dell’arte contemporanea e dei musicisti d’avanguardia, diventando uno fra i primi membri del moviento Fluxus. Personaggio poliedrico e socialmente attivo, fin dagli esordi Yoko Ono diffonde attraverso l’arte e la musica un messaggio di pace e di rispetto dei diritti umani.
L’attenzione al sociale, concetto fondamentale delle opere di Yoko Ono, riguarda in primo luogo il tema delle disuguaglianze, soprattutto quelle di genere. Molti dei lavori dell’artista esprimono infatti un interesse al movimento femminista, soprattutto le prime opere degli anni ’60. Yoko Ono incarna perfettamente lo spirito di ribellione e il fermento culturale di quegli anni esprimendolo con lavori d’avangardia sia dal punto di vista artistico che politico. Non a caso, uno degli altri temi a cui l’artista rivolge una particolare attenzione è quello della pace nel mondo, relativamente alla diatriba etica sulla guerra nel Vietnam.
Tra i suoi lavori più celebri degli anni ’60 c’è Cut Piece (1965), performance nella quale l’artista, seduta al centro di una sala della Carnegie Recital Hall di New York, permette agli spettatori di tagliare a brandelli i propri vestiti, fino a rimanere quasi nuda. La perfomance punta a mosrare come il corpo della donna viene percepito nell’opinione comune contemporanea e ad annullare la barriera che divide artista e fruitore dell’arte, tema affrontato proprio dagli esponenti della neonata Body Art.
Tra le altre opere più note ci sono Apple e Yes, entrambe del 1966. Nella prima l’artista espone una mela verde in alto su una teca di vetro. La mela di Yoko Ono, il cui status di mela è rappresentato da un’etichetta posta sulla mela stessa, è presentata nella sua semplice e chiara semplicità di oggetto naturale, un’operazione che anticipa il lavoro dell’arte concettuale e che riprende l’interesse di Magritte per le etichette. L’opera Yes, invece, consiste in una piccola tela bianca appesa su una scala che punta al soffitto, dove è possibile leggere la parola “yes” con una lente di ingrandimento.
Tra 1964 e il 1972 Yoko Ono produsse una ricca serie di film sperimentali, proseguento in contemporanea la sua carriera come musicista.
Tra i suoi progetti più recenti, infine, si ricordano My Mommy Was Beautiful (2004), dove l’artista aveva fatto distribuire per le vie di Liverpool – la città natale di John Lennon – dei volantini, striscioni, cartoline e quant’altro con le immagini di un seno e di una vagina. Come è possibile immaginare l’opera fece molto scalpore e la Ono fu attaccata da molti; l’artista si è giustificata sostenendo che l’intento di My Mommy Was Beautiful era quello di portare le donne alla consapevolezza del proprio corpo.
Molto meno provocatoria è invece l’iniziativa su scala mondiale del Wish Tree, esposta in Italia alla Galleria Guggenheim di Venezia. In questo lavoro l’artista a inviatato i visitatori ad appendere su un albero un foglietto con i loro desideri e sogni più intimi. Yoko Ono da bambina era stata abituata a scrivere i suoi desideri su un foglio di carta che poi appendeva sugli arbusti dei cortili dei tempi buddhisti, e tale pratica ribadisce il carattere universale e di condivisione tipico della poetica artistica di Yoko Ono.
Yoko Ono, Japanese Ono Yōko, in full Yoko Ono Lennon, (born February 18, 1933, Tokyo, Japan), Japanese artist and musician who was an influential practitioner of conceptual and performance art in the 1960s and who became internationally famous as the wife and artistic partner of musician John Lennon.
Ono was born into a wealthy family in Japan and grew up mostly in Tokyo, where she attended an exclusive school. As a child she wrote poetry and plays and received classical training in piano and voice. In 1952 Ono became the first woman admitted to the philosophy program at Gakushūin University in Tokyo, but, after about a year there, she joined her family in the New York City area, where her father, a bank executive, had been transferred. For the next three years, she studied writing and music at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, though she struggled to find an artistic niche and never graduated.
In 1956 Ono married Ichiyanagi Toshi (divorced 1962), a Japanese composition student through whom she began to forge a connection to the New York City avant-garde art world. Four years later Ono’s downtown Manhattan loft became the site of a seminal series of performance events, which she organized with experimental composer La Monte Young. Drawing partly from the interdisciplinary Zen-inspired work of John Cage, himself a habitué of the loft events, Ono presented simple conceptual art pieces that imaginatively encouraged, and often required, interactive participation. Painting to Be Stepped On (1960), for instance, was a canvas upon which audiences were invited to tread. Many of the works she created during this time existed primarily as written instructions for others to carry out or, in some cases, merely to muse upon. Ono later compiled these epigrammatic texts—Lighting Piece (1955) offered the direction “Light a match and watch till it goes out”—in the book Grapefruit (1964). Interested in the integration of art with everyday life, Ono became associated with the Fluxus collective, and in 1961 the group’s founder, George Maciunas, provided her with her first solo gallery show.
After a sojourn to Japan in 1962–64, during which time she married filmmaker Anthony Cox (divorced 1969), Ono continued to build her reputation in the United States. For the performance piece Cut Piece (1964), she sat passively while an audience, at her invitation, used scissors to cut off parts of the dress she wore; with its connotations of sexual violence, the work was later recognized as a landmark of feminist art. In 1966 Ono relocated to London, where, with Cox, she began making films, including the risqué No. 4 (1966; also known as Bottoms). That same year she met Lennon, a member of the Beatles, at an exhibition of her work at a London gallery. In 1968 the two began collaborating on experimental films and recordings—the cover of their musique-concrète-based album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins (1968) controversially featured a photograph of them naked—and they wed the following year.
Ono’s marriage to Lennon brought her instant celebrity, the consequences of which were mixed. The couple’s weeklong “bed-ins” (1969) in Amsterdam and Montreal, in which they made their hotel bedroom open to the press in an effort to promote world peace, allowed Ono an unprecedented platform to express herself. On the other hand, when the Beatles disbanded in 1970, she was widely vilified as the supposed instigator of the split. Undeterred, she embarked on a music career with Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1970), a collection of mostly improvisational rock songs to which she contributed ululating vocals influenced by Kabuki and the operas of Austrian composer Alban Berg. That and later solo efforts, including Fly (1971) and Approximately Infinite Universe (1973), were acclaimed by some as exemplars of rock’s cutting edge, although Ono’s abrasive style alienated many listeners. Ono and Lennon retreated to private life following the birth of their son, Sean, in 1975, but collaborated again on Double Fantasy (1980), which earned the Grammy Award for album of the year. In December 1980, however, Lennon was shot to death by a deranged fan.
Ono continued to record in the early 1980s, with the dance-club hit “Walking on Thin Ice” (1981) and the album Season of Glass (1981), which captured her emotional reaction to Lennon’s death, among the highlights. Her later releases include Rising (1995), recorded with Sean’s band IMA, and Between My Head and the Sky (2009), for which she resurrected the Plastic Ono Band moniker. Beginning in the 1990s a number of her songs were remixed by younger musicians, who acknowledged her fusion of pop and avant-garde idioms as influential. Ono also wrote a musical, New York Rock, which was produced Off-Broadway in 1994.
In 1989 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City presented a retrospective of Ono’s work; for the exhibition, she produced bronze-cast versions of her early conceptual pieces as a commentary on the commodification of art in the 1980s. Another retrospective, “Yes Yoko Ono,” opened in 2000 at the Japan Society Gallery in New York City and traveled extensively thereafter. She continued to show her work throughout the early 21st century, including at a retrospective of her early art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2015. She received a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2009 Venice Biennale.
Ono also occasionally acted throughout her multifarious career. Most of her roles were in short films with Lennon in the 1970s, but she later lent her voice to Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated feature Isle of Dogs (2018).
In the years after Lennon’s death, Ono worked on various memorials for him and oversaw the release of some of his unpublished material. In 2017 the National Music Publishers’ Association announced that it had begun the process of adding Ono as a songwriter on Lennon’s iconic 1971 single “Imagine.” The organization cited a video clip in which Lennon stated that the hopeful track “should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song,” since much of it was from her.