Yoko Ono encourages visitors to participate in completing her artworks at the Tate Modern exhibition

Yoko Ono stands as a pioneering figure in the realms of early conceptual and participatory art, film, performance, celebrated music, and a staunch advocate for global peace. The exhibition YOKO ONO: MUSIC OF THE MIND spans an impressive seven decades, from the 1950s to the present, showcasing the evolution and lasting influence of her groundbreaking, multidisciplinary work on modern culture. Developed in close partnership with Ono’s studio, this showcase presents over 200 pieces, including instruction pieces, scores, installations, films, music, and photography. It highlights Ono’s innovative use of language, art, and audience engagement, which remains highly relevant today.

Central to Ono’s work are her ideas, often conveyed through poetic, humorous, and insightful means. The exhibition delves into her significant influence within experimental avant-garde circles in New York and Tokyo, spotlighting her development of ‘instruction pieces.’ These pieces, ranging from single verbs like FLY or TOUCH to more elaborate instructions, invite the audience to engage imaginatively with the art. Unseen photographs from Ono’s early ‘instruction paintings’ at her New York loft and her debut solo exhibition at AG Gallery in 1961 are on display. Also featured is the first UK showing of the typescript draft of Grapefruit, Ono’s seminal self-published anthology of instructions from 1953 to 1964. Attendees are encouraged to engage with Ono’s work, including Bag Piece 1964 and Shadow Piece 1963, highlighting her interactive art approach.

The exhibition’s core examines Ono’s transformative works during her five-year residency in London starting in 1966, where she immersed herself in the countercultural scene, meeting John Lennon, her future husband and collaborator. It includes key installations from her influential shows at Indica and Lisson Gallery, such as Apple 1966 and Half-A-Room 1967. Also featured is her controversial Film No. 4 (Bottoms) 1966-7, a ‘petition for peace,’ and insights from her talk at the Destruction In Art Symposium, outlining the principles of her participatory art. Visitors can engage with White Chess Set, a 1966 piece that reflects Ono’s peace advocacy, challenging players to continue the game as long as they can track their pieces, all of which are white. This exhibition not only traces Ono’s artistic journey but also her profound impact on art and culture, inviting viewers to explore her visionary work.

Yoko Ono’s multifaceted work, spanning several decades and mediums, is a profound exploration of themes such as peace, freedom, feminism, and the human connection to nature and each other. The recurring motifs and ideas in her art offer a deep insight into her philosophy and the consistent messages she has aimed to communicate throughout her career. The Tate Modern exhibition, as described, serves as a comprehensive showcase of Ono’s enduring legacy and her innovative approach to art and activism.

Peace and Activism: Ono’s work in peace activism, notably in collaboration with John Lennon, such as the “WAR IS OVER!” campaign and the “Bed-Ins” for peace, reflects her deep commitment to using her platform for advocating global peace. These efforts, including the symbolic “Acorns for Peace,” highlight her belief in the power of art and celebrity influence to enact social and political change. Her recent project, “Add Colour (Refugee Boat),” further demonstrates her engagement with contemporary issues, using participatory art to provoke reflection on the refugee crisis and displacement.

Feminism: Ono’s exploration of feminist themes is evident in her films and music, where she challenges traditional representations of women and advocates for female empowerment. Works like “FLY” and “Freedom” visually and metaphorically address the constraints placed on women, while her songs serve as anthems calling for women’s liberation and strength. These pieces underscore Ono’s contribution to feminist discourse through her unique artistic expressions.

Nature and the Sky: The motif of the sky represents a constant in Ono’s work, symbolizing peace, freedom, and the boundless potential of the human spirit. From her childhood experiences to installations like “SKY TV” and participatory works like “Helmets (Pieces of Sky),” Ono uses the sky as a canvas to project her aspirations for a world without conflict. This theme is a poignant reminder of her search for solace and a universal connection amidst turmoil.

Participatory Art: A significant aspect of Ono’s oeuvre is her emphasis on audience participation, as seen in “Wish Tree” and “My Mommy Is Beautiful.” These works invite the public to engage directly with the art, creating a collective experience that transcends the individual. Through these interactions, Ono fosters a sense of community and shared humanity, encouraging personal contributions to a larger narrative of peace and understanding.

Silent Music and Imagination: The concept of “silent music,” as reflected in the exhibition’s title and Ono’s Music of the Mind series, encapsulates her innovative approach to art as an experience that occurs within the viewer or listener. By prompting the audience to imagine the sound, Ono challenges conventional perceptions of music and art, emphasizing the creative power of the mind.

In summary, Yoko Ono’s work is a testament to her enduring vision of a world united in peace, understanding, and mutual respect. Through her diverse artistic expressions, she invites us to reflect on our values, engage with pressing social issues, and imagine a future where these ideals can be realized. The Tate Modern exhibition not only celebrates Ono’s contributions to art and activism but also serves as a call to action, encouraging visitors to participate in the ongoing quest for a better world.