Yoko Ono: The original Tracey Emin.


19th June  – 9th September 2012

Way back at the end of June I went along to the Serpentine Gallery – and accordingly co ordinated a maze of Olympic barriers – to see Yoko Ono’s TO THE LIGHT. The woman made famous for ‘destroying the Beatles’ appears on reflection to have been far more of an artist, activist and peace-maker than any sort of home-wrecker type – and the most startling comparison I drew from the whole thing is that she is the original Tracey Emin (just a whole lot prettier!)

The exhibition features work ranging from her bizarre acid-trip films from the late ’60s to her Wish Trees standing out front, from the glass structure Amaze to suspended army hats filled to the brim with puzzle pieces – it certainly is a retrospective, some of the work over fifty years old, but the same themes are withstanding throughout her work: pure, potent ‘flower power’.

I mean that in the least whimsical sense however: it is forcefully pacifist, passionately feminist and simply raw. While the show of course communicates all of Ono’s political views, it also gives an intimate insight into her relationship with John Lennon – even displaying her work Ceiling Painting, without which she may never have met Lennon.

Ceiling Painting was one of the works in this show that put you as a visitor in a tricky position: presented with a ladder, a magnifying glass and a tiny word painted on a canvas stuck to the ceiling, the idea is that you climb up the ladder, take the magnifier and read the word ‘YES’ scrawled across the white. But in the Serpentine, where you aren’t even allowed to take tiny little iPhone photos (I’m not bitter at all), I doubt this interaction is allowed – at the entrance of the exhibition I saw a member of staff taking puzzle pieces out of those army hats and handing them to the VIPs she was taking round – but after having been told off for taking snaps on my phone, I was not about to try touching the artwork.

These intimate works such as Ceiling Painting or her text pieces, her film Cut Piece and small bronze sculptural works were the stars of the show for me; they are also political as they do discuss women’s rights, but they are powerfully personal too. This is where the Emin similarity comes in: the tiny scrawl of Ono’s carefully written one-liners and her accusatory descriptions of “the doctor who…” enjoy far less fame than the very same works by Emin.

I’ve already slated Tracey Emin a fair amount in the past, but the more I see, the more I realise how much of her work is simply ‘appropriation’ i.e. shamelessly unoriginal – just look at Clarence John Laughlin’s photograph The Repulsive Bed (Barbican: Surreal House 2010) and you’ll clearly see the roots of Emin’s Bed, her one ‘revolutionary’ artwork.

Ono, on the other hand really does seem to be an ambassador for her times, innovative, still fresh and an actual revolutionary. Although much of her work dates back to the ’60s, sadly the points they make are still relevant now: war is still bad, women still have to do things they don’t want to do, and love is definitely still good.

There are only three weeks left of this one – and Hyde Park is for two weeks not full of tourists! So pop down to the Serpentine, write a wish on a tag and tie it to a tree and go and read about free love, gain a little political education and watch John Lennon’s face spin around a screen in a kaleidoscope of LSD-induced psychedelia.


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