One of Yoko Ono’s most famous works of any medium, Grapefruit, is an influential example of conceptual art. Associating the work with freedom and independence, Ono self-published the first edition under the imprint Wunternaum Press on July 4, 1964. Like many of her artworks, this book is interactive in nature and contains a collection of text-based conceptual artworks, or instruction pieces.
Presented under the headings of Music, Painting, Event, Poetry, and Object, each page features a set of instructions proposing an artwork that readers imagine or realize themselves. “Cough Piece,” for example, instructs readers to “Keep coughing a year,” while “Tunafish Sandwich Piece” invites readers to “[i]magine one thousand suns in the sky at the same time. Let them shine for one hour. Then, let them gradually melt into the sky. Make one tunafish sandwich and eat.” Ono’s democratic conception of the book extended to its production and the first edition of this book was inexpensively printed in a small square format and perfect bound with cardstock covers. The first edition of this book, of which this copy is one, was limited to 500 copies. In the summer of 1964, during the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Ono sold copies of it on the streets. An expanded version of the book was reprinted by Simon and Schuster in 1970 and several times thereafter. It has been translated into many different languages.
Due to its instructional nature, the book remained a factor in her work for several years. In 1966, she sailed from New York to London to participate in DIAS, a month-long event formally called the Destruction in Art Symposium, organized by London based artist Gustav Metzger. Her participation in this event included Cut Piece, where members of the audience cut away parts of her clothing. This created quite a buzz, and Ono was invited to show her work at an exhibition held at the Indica Gallery and Bookshop. It was at the preview for this show, held the night before the opening, that Ono met John Lennon.
The works in the Indica show drew heavily from the instructional “menus” found in Grapefruit. In the words of a recent MoMA exhibition catalogue: "A great many of the works in the exhibition were examples of her “instruction paintings” and demonstrated her notion of “brain painting.” The sources of many of them were the scores printed in the 1964 edition of her book Grapefruit." Biesenbach and Cherix, Yoko Ono: One Woman Show 1960-1971.
This copy of the scarce first edition features a handwritten inscription by the artist in English reading “To Francis, Yoko Ono London ‘66”, and thus ties it to her Cut Piece trip and her first meeting with Lennon. Like much of her work made during this period, Ono was preoccupied with war, and in the lower left of the same page the artist has by hand copied, as part on the inscription but written in Japanese with Kanji characters, a poignant haiku by Basho:
Ah! Summer grasses!
All that remains
Of the warriors’ dreams