A pioneer in conceptual art, experimental film, and performance art, Yoko Ono was born in Tokyo in 1933. Ono lived in both Japan and America during her childhood. She enrolled as the first woman in the philosophy program at Gakushuin University in Tokyo and, after her family moved to Scarsdale, New York, the next year, she began studying at Sarah Lawrence College until 1955 when she left school. As a young artist Ono spent time in New York, Tokyo, and London where she was connected to other avant-garde artists and musicians and she became an early Fluxus participant.
Ono’s work often questions the idea that art must be embodied in the form of an object and it challenges the traditional notion of the artist as the solitary creator of a work. One of the distinctive characteristics of her art is its interactive nature. For example, her early work Painting to Be Stepped On (1960-61) encouraged viewers to stand on a canvas placed on the floor. In 1962, she exhibited text-based conceptual works called Instruction Paintings which required viewers not to see but to imagine the proposed pieces. In 1964, she debuted performance works including Bag Piece, in which viewers were invited to climb into a sack and move around, and Cut Piece, in which audience members were invited to cut off pieces of her clothing.
In the late 1960s, Ono began making experimental films. Her work in this medium includes pieces such as No. 4 (Bottoms) (1966-67), which shows a sequence of close-ups of moving buttocks. In 1968, Ono began a personal and creative partnership with John Lennon that lasted until Lennon’s death in 1980. Their collaborations included music, their Bed-In (1969), and other projects related to their peace activism.
The making of books has been a small but important part of Ono’s artistic practice throughout her career. In addition to contributing to collaborative publications such as An Anthology of Chance Operations (1963), Ono has also self-published a handful of books under the name of Wunternaum Press, a play on the German word Wunderbaum, or “miracle tree.” Her collection of text-based instruction pieces entitled Grapefruit (1964) is recognized as an important iconic work of conceptual art. Spare Room (2003) pairs Ono’s 1973 essay “Feeling the Space” with an image that is slowly zoomed to the point of abstraction.
In recent years, Ono has continued to exhibit new works in many different media. Her more recent projects include major public artworks such as Imagine Peace Tower (2007) in Reykjavik and Skylanding (2016) in Chicago. In 2020, banners bearing the words DREAM TOGETHER were commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate its reopening.
Ono’s work has been featured in retrospective exhibitions at the Japan Society in New York (2000-04), the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2014) and, importantly, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2015) in a show entitled “Yoko One: One Woman Show, 1960 – 1971.” Her work is in the permanent collections of the Met, the Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, the Hirshhorn Museum, and others.