yoko ono: to the light – at the serpentine gallery

21 July 2012 § 1 Comment

This is a must-see for all those who like Yoko Ono. It is also a must-see for those who quite like or even dislike her. For most of her career Ono – in the UK at least –  has been pilloried as the woman who broke up the Beatles, ridiculed for being somewhat ‘bonkers’ whilst all the time being disgracefully ignored as a world-class artist.

In recent years she has become more widely recognised for her talents and this exhibition hopefully puts all the negativity behind and reinforces her admission in to the list of the best and most influential of 20th century artists.

One enters the exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery via a lobby where a brief documentary on the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland plays. The creation of this tower of light  – first posited in 1965 before being eventually realised in 2007 – neatly encapsulates Ono’s work. Stunningly simple – a single beam of light asks us to reconsider our existence. It asks to appreciate and enjoy the essential purity of life.

These deep messages, simply executed are at the heart of Ono’s genius, regularly and consistently repeated over the last 50 years to a largely unappreciative world. At the Serpentine the works are not ordered chronologically but rather have been assembled thematically, placing works that are similar – or occasionally repeated – together to reinforce the consistency of the work over time whilst  at the same time illustrating the variations.

What is most striking is the reminder as to just how ground-breaking she was as a conceptual, video and performance artist. The first room for example has three piles of earth placed simply along the floor whilst either side soldiers helmets, filled with jigsaw pieces of sky, hang from the ceiling. This sort of presentation now almost de rigeur for any student degree show was unheard of in the early 1960’s. Then it was daring, imaginative and new. The whole Fluxus movement, of which she was a vital part, infact ripping up the white cube rule book for what was acceptable as art and its method of presentation.

In subsequent galleries one first encounters a piece of dirty canvas – no longer of course in a frame or on a wall – lying on a floor for us to walk over. There is a mirror ahead so we can see ourselves literally trampling on the previous history of art. 

There are more iconic works: bronzes of everyday objects oozing with blood, films in ultra slow motion of eyes blinking or Lennon smiling, a glass maze, words in pencil scrawled on walls on floors asking us to imagine another reality. From the famed Indica Gallery show – where Lennon and Ono met – there is also the famed stepladder with magnifying glass attached leading to a ceiling where the word ‘yes’ is framed. John always said that if it had said ‘no or f**k you’, he would have taken little notice, but the word yes hooked him and changed the rest of his life – for better or worse.

Despite being a little brief and sparse this is a ‘yes’ exhibition which really should make us all appreciate Ono that bit more.

 Until 9 September 2012.  www.serpentinegallery.org

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