Ono An Original

Rating: NNNNThink Yoko Ono's a hoax artist only capable of one-liners? Think again. Even a hardened philistine would have a.

Rating: NNNN

Think Yoko Ono’s a hoax artist only capable of one-liners? Think again. Even a hardened philistine would have a hard time writing off the AGO’s Yes Yoko Ono, an exhibit that makes concrete a lifetime of artistic practice.

Over the years, Ono has endured as pop culture’s most maligned woman. Recently, this once vilified artist has received support from a new generation of admirers, and continues to carve her eccentric course. As an Asian woman making art at a time when there was no such thing as pop cultural studies, she was the ultimate anti-diva, continually reinventing herself.

In this upbeat exhibit full of humour, Ono is shown as a vital link between Asian thought and the avant garde. Hers was an inherently social art that asked the audience to complete the work.

For example, in her Cut Piece performance (1966), documented in a black-and-white film, Ono invites the audience to cut away pieces of her clothing until she sits naked. In her more recent Telephone Piece, a phone sits on a shelf with a note telling people to answer if it rings and they’ll be speaking directly to Yoko Ono. She makes random calls to chat with whoever might be standing by the phone.

As a pivotal figure of the 60s Fluxus movement, Ono helped define the subversive, absurdist sensibility that has underscored experimentation in the arts ever since. Her Zen vaudeville staged performances, “instruction” paintings, sublime films and, yes, even her feral singing voice anticipated everything from performance art and minimalism to the most extreme new wave cinema.

Ono sometimes elevates the minute to monumental status, allowing us to contemplate the magic of the ordinary. But her deepest, career-long preoccupations are vast (peace, love and understanding) and her attempt to engage the viewer’s imagination, where she tries to situate the actual artwork, has never flagged. Ono’s aim all along has been the democratization of artmaking.

Yoko Ono at the Art Gallery of Ontario (330 Dundas West), to May 20. $12, Wed after 6 pm free. 416-979-6648. Rating: NNNN

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