Yōko Ono: The High Priestess of the Happening

Yōko Ono is better known as the one who caused The Beatles’ breakup rather than for her artistic talent. However, she is undoubtedly one of the most daring figure of contemporary art world.

We’ll tell you why.

The breakthrough creativity

“What I’m trying to do is make something happen by throwing a pebble into the water and creating ripples…I don’t want to control the ripples.”

Yōko Ono, hated by many and beloved by few, is a versatile artist who engages in the reinterpretation of several art forms.
As daughter of an aspiring piano player and a painter she has art in her blood, but it’s her great interpretative ability that leads her to impose herself on the artistic scenario.
She is always surrounded by visionary artists with whom she shares the passion for performance and conceptual art. For this reason, in the early ‘60s, she opens her house to dancers, composers and artists of any kind, who call her “The High Priestess of the Happening”.
Indeed, Yōko Ono becomes known thanks to this contemporary art form, whose aim is to glorify not the material object in itself, but the event created around the idea that the artist wants to convey.

Performance art

“Performance art is going to be the future. Plays on Broadway are so restricted. But performance art is like haikus, just one-line thing. And it’s more casual but more interesting.”

The idea of Performance art is symbolically expressed in her book Grapefruit, a collection of “event score” – art performances scripts which describes the actions to play during the performances. The collection makes us fully understand Yōko Ono’s artistic point of view: she doesn’t actually see the artwork as something strictly connected to a material object; by contrast, the artist wants to convey a daring view of art, able to expand human perspective of life through “performance” or “instructions” that are aimed at the creation of a pacific world.
For Yōko Ono art is therefore a means of conveying her ideal of a world without a place for wars, idea that she keeps on affirming in her activities as writer, musician, activist and feminist.


Cut Pieces, the first feminist performance

“Art must build a peace industry bigger than the war industry.”

The Priestess of the Happening is unpopular among common people, but she is esteemed by artistic personalities who often invite her to hold exhibitions both in the United Stated and Europe.
One of her most famous performances is Cute Pieces, the first feminist performance art, during which the artist, sitting on the floor, lets members of the public cut pieces of the clothes she wears by using some scissors.
The purpose is to offer the public her body, in order to support the idea of freedom arising from the experience to live her own nudity without restrictions.


The first meeting with John Lennon

“The world’s most famous unknown artist: everyone knows her name but no one knows what she actually does.” –

This is how John Lennon describes her. He is the man who better understands, and especially shares, Yōko Ono’s view of the world. Their first meeting takes place in London, during an exposition at Indica Gallery, where John Lennon gets really impressed by the positive approach to life that Yōko Ono expresses through her performance art works.
What lights the fire of Lennon is the word “YES”, written by Yōko Ono in tiny letters on the ceiling of the room where the exposition takes place and only readable by climbing on a ladder and holding a magnifying glass.
From that moment on, there are many occasions in which the two artists express their positive view of life and world. One of them is the so-called Bed-In for Peace, a pacific and non-violent protest against the Vietnam War, during which the two artists sing for peace to the strains of Give Peace a Chance.
Their artistic duo gives also birth to the band Plastic Ono Band, which plays music sang and composed by Yōko Ono herself.


A tireless activist

Nowadays, Yōko Ono is still a promoter of equality and pacifism, as we can see by her copious interventions in favor of peace and by the creation of the LennonOno Grant for Peace, an award for organizations and people that pursue pacifist ideals. Her tireless pacifist protest is constantly achieved by her artworks and public exhibitions, which try to break the boundaries between art, politics and society, according to the code of performance art.
An example of the Priestess of the Happening’s immortal artistic creativity is her artwork Wish Tree Garden, an art installation created for the contemporary art international center Copenaghen Contemporary.
The installation allows its visitors to write their own wishes on a slip of paper and to hang it on the branches of the trees which create a “garden”. The artwork is a clear means to celebrate the act of sharing, always part of Yōko Ono’s idea of art and human feelings.