A vast white space inside Tate Modern has transformed into a hommage to one of modern art’s more controversial artists – Yoko Ono, almost as famous for simply being famous as she is for marriage(s) and her art.

The exhibition starts by exploring her pivotal role in experimental avant-garde circles in New York and Tokyo, including developing her ‘instruction pieces’ – written instructions that ask readers to imagine, experience, make or complete the work.

Previously unseen photographs show Ono’s first ‘instruction paintings’ at her loft studio in New York – where she and composer La Monte Young hosted experimental concerts and events – and in her first solo exhibition at AG Gallery in 1961. The heart of the exhibition though charts her radical works created during her five-year stay in London from 1966.

It’s not an exhibition that will change minds; either you’re the sort of person who loves performative art, and your opinions will be reinforced, or you don’t care for it, and your opinions will be reinforced.

For myself, part of the difficulty is that these forms of interactive art only really work in the time and place, where people are drawn into the emotions of the moment, and hosting a retrospective exhibition is missing the most important element of the original artwork.

Reading the instructions for a stage performance misses the key elements – the performance itself. It felt disconnected as if trying to feel the fun of a party from reading the list of ingredients for the birthday cake.

There is some work you can participate in – from nailing nails into a board, drawing your own shadow outline, or playing peace chess using an all-white chess board. A boat encourages you to draw on the walls and the floor to create a site specific artwork, which will be painted over when the exhibition closes and will be lost forever.

For all the size of the exhibition, though, and it’s a very big space with some 200 items on display, it still somehow manages to feel very empty — as there are so many white walls and so much white art. The mostly monochrome feel of the space does slightly make you feel as if you’re stepping back in time to the 1960s when television and news were still mostly black and white and colour still dominated.

It’s a problematic exhibition, very much of its style, but also of its time, and it’s hard to get the emotions of the time from the fragments that have come down the ages to us. If you’re a fan, you’ll love it – if you’re not, you might leave wondering what you just looked at.

The exhibition, Yoko Ono Music of the Mind is at Tate Modern until 1st September 2024.

Tickets are advised to be booked in advance from here.


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One comment
  1. George Abacassis says:

    Oh god, not her again. Does anyone care and how did she get any attention at all ?

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