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I’m a bit late in writing this up, but couldn’t let it go without a post (Yes, I actually like Yoko Ono).

About a week ago I took the train down to Newcastle to see the city and visit the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art to see the Yoko Ono retrospective.

I should start by saying that the Baltic is a fantastic gallery. Converted from a flour mill, there are lots of wide gallery spaces and a fantastic high ceilinged atrium on the top floor.

Before I get to talking about the exhibition, two caveats:

1)  People who think Ono broke up the Beatles generally don’t like her art.  If you are one of these people, I recommend you read my posts on more popular topics.  Like nude opera or Alan Rickman.

2)  Yoko Ono’s aesthetic is a bit twee and occasionally painfully earnest.  I like it.  Some of the artworks seem politically naive in 60s, long haired hippy sense.  But they are from the 60s, so you can take it in the spirit of the decade.

That is why my favourite works were the earlier ones.  The early 60s short poetry pieces like ‘Paintings’, ‘Play it by Trust’ the giant chess set with only white pieces (1966) “Chess set for playing as long as you can remember where all your pieces are”, ‘Cut Piece’ (1965) and  ‘Amaze’ (1971).

‘Cut Piece’ is a performance work filmed originally in 1965 and then again more recently where Ono sits on a stage and invites the audience to cut at her clothes with scissors.  ‘Amaze’ is a clear perspex maze.

The more recent work was generally less interesting, but had some highlights.  ‘Wish Tree’ is a fairly literal interpretation of the Shinto ritual where people tie strips of paper to branches to send prayers and wishes to the Kami within trees.
Here are some I saw visiting Japan a few years ago – in Tokyo:
Outside Tokyo

And in Kyoto:
Fushimi Inari-taisha

I took a sneaky picture of the wish tree in the Baltic exhibition (I’m all for artwork copyright protection, but I think the participation element justifies stealing a picture here):
Wish tree

I took note of some of the more interesting wishes:

“GANSTA [sic] 4 LIFE”

“I want a pony and a stable please”

“I wish I can get a 2nd upper in my law degree”

This one was funny:
Brian's favourite
The text reads: “I wish Patrick-wolf-boy would fall in love with me please x.”

Like Ono’s contribution to the LOVE exhibition I saw last year, the strength of these participatory works is in finding a concept engaging enough to actually get people writing heartfelt, sarcastic and occasionally absurd comments on little tags for the general public to read.  There were two other similar set ups: ‘My Mommy is Beautiful’ (blank canvases for messages of love to mothers) and ‘We are all Water’.  ‘We are all Water’ is a series of glass jars filled with water and  labelled with the names of historical figures (Gertrude Stein sits beside Groucho Marx and 50 cents [sic]) with a final blank jar with cards for visitors to write a name on.

A more interesting recent piece was ‘Helmet’, a development of one of her short poem works ‘A piece of sky’:

Take a piece of sky.
Know that we are
all part of each other.

‘Helmet’ is a small room full of upturned German World War II era helmets suspended from the ceiling, each full of jigsaw puzzle pieces like this:

Sky

Visitors are invited to take a piece of sky.  I like ‘Helmet’ because it was visually striking, and representing war accountability with hundreds of puzzle pieces that individual people hold is neat (I did warn you all it was going to be twee* at the start).

Baltic

*Apologies for the recent overuse of the word ‘twee’ – Unfortunately both a indie pop genre and an appropriate adjective here.

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