Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yoko Ono in Shanghai: Oh No, Yoko

Yoko Ono is certainly in a unique position. Ono is, of course, more famous for her love interests than her art. It's difficult for one to divorce her art from her famous marriage to John Lennon and their decade-long campaign for peace and pacifism in the 1960s and 1970s. Unique to her too is the sense of antagonism that so many feel towards her: she is, to many, the reason the Beatles broke up. Her name has become synonymous with disharmony between friends, a timeless reminder of the danger that relationships can pose to friendships.

Ono has not, however, shied away from her association with Lennon. As hundreds lined up outside the Ke Art Center to see her show "Fly" in Shanghai, a giant screen hanging against the building alternated between slideshows and videos of Ono. At one point, the video for Lennon's "Imagine" came on the screen, perhaps Lennon's most immortal songs, concluding with a written statement by Ono in which she pledges her eternal love for Lennon.

Before the doors opened, Ono stood on the roof of the center, mumbling into a poorly-balanced microphone, shining a flashlight into the crowd. Visitors were given small flashlights, and Ono declared that all should go to loved ones and strangers alike, flash light at them and declare "I love you." Ono tried tirelessly to get the crowd to chant "I love you" to each other and to her, but the crowd was disinterested and unenthusiastic. It was raining, and clearly everyone was ready to get inside to see the exhibition.

Once the doors opened, the crowd began to stampede through the double doors, creating a scary situation that, unfortunately, is not unfamiliar to crowds in Shanghai. Once I made it inside the gallery, the exhibit was, for a lack of better words, underwhelming. I suppose I set my expectations especially high because of my respect and admiration for Lennon, and, being unfamiliar with Ono's art, figured that somehow there would be a connection for me with this art. After all, this was an artist Lennon loved, and I would certainly trust his taste.

Ono's show, however, was seemingly undeveloped and hastily put together. Aside from two large posters, one of a breast and the other of a vagina, Ono's art was rather interactive, grounding itself in words and language rather than visual imagery. Visitors were encouraged on one wall to write a note of love to their mothers. The piece was me was unoriginal and uninspiring.

Ono broke up the gallery space with a makeshift stairway of sorts, a plywood mountain that visitors needed to transverse to see the rest of the show. The rest of the show consisted of a room on which Ono had written sentences and phrases on a wall in black pen, phrases that seemed intentionally ambiguous and minimal. Visitors snaked around the room, dynamically experiencing the space, but there seemed to be a lack of focus or clear message. Whereas the first part of the show seemed focus on love and maternity, this part of the show focused on more abstract concepts without a distinct thesis. Perhaps it was over my head.

I cannot say I was wholly impressed with Ono's exhibit overall. I can appreciate Ono's messages, and her undying love for Lennon, twenty-eight years after his murder, but I cannot say that I feel a connection to her art. It is, for me, far too vague.

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