Believe it or not, long before Yoko Ono became Mrs. John Lennon, she did have a life and identity of her own. As an avant-garde artist over the past 40 years, she has produced a significant and influential body of work. Yes, we're talking about that Yoko Ono. The one who supposedly broke up the Beatles. The one whose "singing" often consisted of high-pitched caterwauling. The one who allegedly never made important business decisions without first consulting her psychic and astrologer. The one who, despite her distorted public image as angry and cold, is actually a witty, modest, almost giggly woman."It's very exciting that people are starting to be interested in my work, I suppose," Ono says, speaking on the phone from New York about "YES YOKO ONO," the first-ever American retrospective of her art, which has toured the country and begins its final stop at North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art this weekend. A whopping more than 150 pieces -- paintings, works on paper, objects made from found materials, photographs, films, video, and bronzes -- make up the show that ranges from the 1960s to the present.
"A retrospective is something you only get when you're dead. I'm not dead yet!" Ono quips. "But when they curated the show and I went through it, I said, 'Oh, this is beautiful. That's not bad.' I would not have imagined to curate my show this way. They did an incredible job." How would she have done it differently? "Well, I probably would have done a lousy job!" she notes, laughing. "I would have just put one piece in the show, one huge, huge piece. It wouldn't have been very exciting. I like that kind of playing with people's minds."
And messing with people's perceptions and stirring the imagination are things at which Ono is highly skilled. In fact it has been an integral part of her oeuvre ever since she began making art. She was multimedia and crossover before those labels were widely used. Experimenting with the New York-based Fluxus movement of the 1960s, communing with Tokyo's avant-garde, and garnering mass-media attention by bedding-in with her husband for peace are just some of the myriad ways the woman who claims she is "never bored" has chosen to express herself. "Just sitting and watching the sky makes me feel incredible. There's an incredible exuberance there," she says.
These days Ono's preferred form of art is creating music, something she once did with her husband and now often does with their son Sean. Although Ono claims she and her husband were infrequent collaborators, what's one of the things she misses the most about him? "The dialogue," she says. "We were two artists who had fiercely independent ideas, but we had a kind of mutual admiration society. And it was effortless."