Exhibition: Yoko Ono. War is Over! …

ono_bannerI visited this exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney this week. Click here for the exhibition webpage.

The fine print below the title, not readable on the banner is if you want it.

I went to a talk about the exhibition last November, together with other OCA students Kath, Claire (her post on the exhibition here), and Jackie (exhibition posts here and here). The ticket I purchased then has been sitting in my wallet for over two months. I finally got there in the last weeks of the exhibition because I thought I “ought” to.

I resisted it. I expected to be irritated by it. I was right.

At least in part this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I went in with reservations, negative expectations – and I found / interpreted material to confirm them. This is a Very Bad Thing for an art history student to do. I didn’t go down without a fight (nice word in this context!). I tried to challenge myself, tried to try to find things interesting, thought provoking, enlightening – but there it is. If I had to sum up this exhibition in three words they would be “pretentious, sanctimonious twaddle”.

My first concerns related to the celebrity / John Lennon thing and the age of much of the material. This is at least in part the result of decisions by the MCA curator. There was quite a bit of John Lennon to be seen in the exhibition and quite a lot of the works had their origins in the late 1960s. Condemning war, promoting peace and understanding are still good messages, but can’t we expect a little more nuance, a little more depth, some development after 40+ years? It just looks a bit dated and … stuck. There was a really intense period in Ono’s life and she can’t leave it behind. Of course with the celebrity thing, we won’t let her.

Yoko Ono Glass keys to open the skies 1967.  Four glass keys in perspex box with brass hinges

Yoko Ono
Glass keys to open the skies
1967. Four glass keys in perspex box with brass hinges

An example. A 1967 work with a title that means … what? Open the skies??

(Apologies as always about the rubbish photo. Shots of clear glass and perspex are not straightforward.)

This was one of a series of work displayed together, and on a nearby wall was a later series.

Yoko Ono Bronze Age: Keys to open the skies 1966/1988 Artwork painted bronze

Yoko Ono
Bronze Age: Keys to open the skies
1966/1988 Artwork painted bronze

The basic form and scale of the keys was the same. The associated signage included a little story, where in 1987 Ono had been distressed when someone suggested she work in bronze. Then she realized that the air had a “special shimmer” in the 60s. She was still holding on to that. She had to move into the 80s – bronze could become a “warm shimmer instead of the dead weight”. “Eighties is OK. It has to do.”

That sense of nostalgia, of holding on despite herself to past glory days, felt to me a dead weight in the exhibition.

Yoko Ono Helmets - Pieces of sky 2001 / 2013

Yoko Ono
Helmets – Pieces of sky (detail)
2001 / 2013

Another of my concerns was fuzzy logic and pious, portentous phrases with no actual content.

In this work we are presented with military helmets (apparently different origins in different installations) suspended from the ceiling. In each helmet are jigsaw pieces showing areas of sky.

ono_04There is a little note from Ono – “Take a piece of sky. Know that we are all part of each other”. Apparently the hope is that on some unspecified future day in some unspecified future way we will all get together and somehow make the pieces fit together “to build a beautiful new sky.”

I chose not to take a jigsaw piece.
I had more time for this participatory work. As the game progresses, if you can’t tell who owns each piece how can you compete? I still find the commentary from Ono stilted: “Ideally this leads to a shared understanding of (our) mutual concerns and a new relationship based on empathy rather than opposition. Peace is then attained on a small scale.”

Some of the other issues I can point to curator selection, language differences… This one I found squirmingly awful.

The message: We’re all the same. In the end we all amount to a bottle of water. Look at this shelf of bottles of water all the same.

Except the artist has chosen to name her bottles of water. Mary Shelley, Osama bin Laden, Virgin Mary, Nikolai Gogol, Isaac Newton, John Cage… There was a long row and given the number of names I recognized it seems reasonably likely that the rest are my ignorance rather than their obscurity. If the artist had named the bottles John and Mary or equivalents in every language and alphabet available the work might have resonated. Instead she chose to restrict her choices to a certain class of people – we’re all equal but some are more equal than others. (thank you Mr Orwell – I didn’t see his name but it could have been there somewhere).

It’s a long time since the 1960s. We can’t get things just by wanting them. I’m sorry I wasn’t proved wrong by this exhibition.

3 Responses to “Exhibition: Yoko Ono. War is Over! …”

  1. 1 Claire B February 8, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I thought a few of the pieces had good conceptual ideas behind them but was dismayed to find that they had ALL been exhibited repeatedly over many years. She is clearly stuck in a continually repeating rut and is not evolving her work, renewing her themes or contemporising her messages.
    My blog post was very factual, essentially stating what I saw, how it was displayed and what she was trying to convey. My personal feelings towards much of what was shown was total indifference and a sense of having missed the point of all the hype. Did the significance and deep meaning of this event somehow pass over my head? No, I don’t think so. I believe that what she has put on display has some sort of meaning to her but has not necessarily translated well in a public forum.

    My husband questioned who classifies work as ‘art’, who decides what is deserving and what is not, whose eye is it that apparently recognises that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that lies within and deems things worthy.

    Dare I say………. dare I? It smacks of Tracey Emin. No new messages, no evolving practice, just churning out the same stuff with the same boring format as in the past – and raking in the cash because of the celebrity name attached to the mediocre work.

  2. 2 fibresofbeing February 8, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    A recent comment in the OCA student forum was that something is an artwork if you declare it to be – but that doesn’t mean it is good art.

  1. 1 UWA-WA1:P3 Review | Fibres of Being Trackback on March 2, 2014 at 8:05 pm

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