Oh No, It's Ono
Yoko Ono is an acquired taste.
A taste that no doubt eludes many palates. Maybe it’s
her head-in-the-clouds life perspective, that seemed even
simplistic to those who lived in a bubble of naiveté
back in the Sixties. But of course I still have my copy of
her book Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings
Reads one such “instruction”:
TUNAFISH SANDWICH PIECE
Imagine one thousand suns in the
sky at the same time.
Let them shine for one hour.
Then, let them gradually melt
into the sky.
Make one tunafish sandwich and eat.
To which I’m inclined to respond: I
imagined a thousand suns in the sky, and unsurprisingly, they
blinded my mind’s eye.
What if she is just putting us on? What if
it’s just a sharp wit about her that we missed then?
And still miss now? A sense of whimsy that we take so literally?
What, Zen? (You mean you didn’t like all that cat-in-heat
shrieking on the records she made with the Plastic Ono Band?).
In any case, she is usually described as being
a conceptual artist. And so I head over to the Museum of Modern
Art to check out the concepts, in this reprise of her greatest
This is the first time she will have had a
sanctioned showing there (which runs till September 7th),
as her first appearance at MoMA in late 1971, was decidedly
“unofficial.” More like a party crashing.
At that time, she advertised her “one
woman show” at the Museum of Modern (F)art
according to a sign outside, which also stated that she had
released flies on the museum’s grounds, and asked that
people track them as they flew about the city. (She could
have at least put identifying tags on their legs to make it
The point of that alleged exercise (did she
really do that?) was said to be, to make us ever more focused
and watchful. And in that sense, it echoes a tenet of Buddhist
philosophy having to do with being awake as a means toward
attaining enlightenment. Or not. Anyway, more than 40 years
later, she is back. Officially.
art might better be described as a sort of “Marcel Duchamp
meets Maria Abramovic.” Where Duchamp had his urinal
or snow shovel, Ono has her hammer and nails, or green apple.
Where Abramovic once invited an audience to use any one of
72 objects on her —which included a feather, honey,
a scalpel, a whip— to give pleasure or inflict pain,
Ono had her “Cut Piece”; a performance piece in
which she directed an audience, one at a time, to come up
and cut off a piece of her clothing with a long tailor scissors,
and keep it. All the while, she sat there passively.
While this might have seemed just an indulgent avant-garde
artist stunt back then, looking at a film of it now, a meaning
emerges that would not have been so apparent when she “performed”
it at Carnegie Hall in 1965, prior to feminist movement coming
to the forefront. It suggests metaphorically, a gross violation
of women as they are reduced to sitting by silently without
protest. And yet this is something that still reverberates
today, as evidenced by allegations from nearly thirty women—
at last count— about Bill Cosby doing this very thing.
Though he didn’t use his scissors.
There are other pieces of an equally serious
nature throughout the exhibit, dealing in particular, with
anti-war protests and seeking world peace. Yet in the main,
most are light hearted and her sense of whimsy now comes through
in a way it may not have before.
We see for example, a reprise of that white
ladder leading up to a spyglass hanging from the ceiling.
It is a reminder of how John and Yoko first met in ’66.
As the story goes, Lennon was invited to attend
a gallery where Ono was preparing a conceptual art exhibit.
He was at first unimpressed, but when he climbed the ladder
and looked through the spyglass at the top and saw the word
“YES,” it instantly connected with him as an expression
of optimism that all things are possible, as he later said.
If it had said “NO,” who knows. And the rest,
as they say, is history.
In a variation on this ascension to a new
perspective theme—in a piece commissioned by MoMA which
she entitled “To See the Sky,” — Ono offers
a steep spiral staircase leading to a skylight atop the museum.
One is encouraged to climb the stairs for a look-see. As described
by a Times art critic…
“But as you reach the top of the staircase,
something unnerving happens. The structure starts to wobble
and sway, like a ship on a moody sea. Looking skyward becomes
hard; your gut tells you to focus on where your feet are.
Even when you’ve come back down, it takes a minute
to find your land legs. So, just when you thought you were
in for a bit of transcendence, free and clear, you’ve
been given a wake-up poke, a little slap of fear, a reminder
that looking for light is perilous; danger is always near…”
While I was never personally reminded “that
looking for light is perilous,” I did take some pictures
through the skylight at a fragment of skyline while up there,
and it was …cool. And as for the “wobble and sway,
like a ship on a moody sea”? Poetic, but hardly anything
on the level of a theme park ride, as this overly zealous
At the bottom of the stairs is the fact, that Yoko Ono, now
82, is still at it. However she, or we, define “it.”
She has long since transcended the snickering that would accompany
any mention of her name or talents in the same breath as mega-star
husband John. And for all the eye-rolling that might accompany
some of her Grapefruit life instructions— oh
Stir inside of your brains with a
until things are mixed well.
Take a walk.
…she has long since become a legend,
an icon, a star, in her own right. This MoMA exhibition is
a testament to that
Quote of the Month
Artists Without Walls
there is that doesn’t love a wall…
In desperate search of a podium
from which to give voice to a voice within
from the dregs that begged to be heard
I walked through a door and into a gathering
that called itself “Artists Without Walls.”
Though they performed in a space called The Cell.
A descent into madness closely follows
the loss of a sense of irony.
Young people from the old sod singing
Irish elders from a once Catholic God strumming
violin solos to make even an Alpha male weep
and this stunning woman with a head of hair
more intricately quaffed than the world has ever known
read her poem one night from her phone.
Could I not be as hip, before one need be replaced?
Yes, I stuck in my thumb and pulled out a pun
then pulled out my rotary cellular phone.
But I could not decipher in iambic pentameter
not one fucking word with my eyes gone to seed.
You can say “fuck” all you want in the absence
And in time I discovered you can dress as a lobster,
or in drag, or a lobster in drag, what the hell…
when artists are ensconced without walls in a cell.
But I digress. And dare I do so in a dress?
I must get back to my hard copied poem
before some in the back row slip out the back door —
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
as Frost implored in Mending Wall.
Though that back door is sometimes the front door depending
on that night’s chair positions and tenancy;
natural selection or intelligent design?
And people might enter to find themselves
in the midst of a scene from a play never seen.
Perhaps one mid-wifed just five minutes ago
with the ink on the script still drying.
But is not the play the thing despite
whatever walking shadow walks in late in the night?
One time the door was way off
to the right
and I found myself strutting my stuff in the round,
an alignment wreaking havoc on my visual aids
meant to be seen head on— silly props, I know—
but needed to prop up the low moan of my monologue
of time passing where once there was a booth with a phone.
Of what matter though the passage of time
in that like water we’ll seek and find
our own level while testing ourselves in new ways—
tearing down even the fourth wall if we must
to enter and exit a stage as we must,
whichever way the door is facing.
Has It Been Twenty-Five Years Already
In surfing the net in search
of information for a piece I was working on, I came across
a site, www.historyorb.com,
that invites one to “see what famous, scandalous, and
notable events happened in”… pick a date, a month,
With 25 years seemingly an appropriate time
span for all sorts of wows, ironies and head shaking over
the fleeting passage of time, I clicked June 1990.
As a public service, I offer a smattering of that which jumped
out at me, either for its heft, or its head-scratching lack
thereof. Not to mention in some instances, its profound obscurity.
The question of what constitutes something
newsworthy, and ultimately a piece of “history”
worth recording, continues to confound. But I’ll spare
the parenthetical remarks, as you will no doubt supply your
own in perusing this chronological list of headliners in a
June month from another galaxy. Imagine Barbra Streisand intoning
“The Way We Were,” as you do.
- Cowboy Channel on cable TV begins
- Dow Jones Avg. hits a record
high of 2,900.97
- Greyhound Bus files bankruptcy
- NY Telephone company announces
that it wants Bronx area code 917
- Dr. Jack Kevorkian
assisted an Oregon woman to commit suicide, beginning
a national debate over the right to die
- South African troops plunder
Nelson Mandela’s home
- Michael Jackson hospitalized for
- "It's Garry Shandling's
Show" last airs on Fox-TV
- Kerry Kennedy (daughter of Robert)
& Andrew Coumo (Mario's son) to wed
- Michael Jackson is hospitalized
with inflamed rib cartilage
- Burger King begins using Newman's
Own Salad Dressing
- Supreme Court says law prohibiting
desecration of US flag unconstitutional
- Egypt (500-1 longshot) ties favorite
Neth. 1-1 in World Cup game
- "Les Miserables"
opens at S Alberta Jubilee Centre, Calgary
- Wash. DC mayor Marion Barry announces
he will not seek a 4th term
- "Dick Tracy" with
Warren Beatty & Madonna premieres
- 40,000-50,000 die in a (7.6) earthquake
- Asteroid Eureka is discovered.
- Little Richard gets a star on
Hollywood's walk of fame
- NYC's Zodiac killer shoots
4th victim, Larry Parham
- US House of Representatives votes
254-177 to stop US flag burning, doesn't pass
- At Yankee Stadium rally, Nelson
Mandela dons a NY Yankee baseball cap & proclaims
"I am a Yankee!"
- Florida passes a law prohibits
wearing a thong bathing suit
- Adam Sandler joins "Saturday
- Moldavia declares independence
- Police find marijuana
at Chuck Berry's home
- TV Guide selects Arsenio Hall
as TV personality of year
- Supreme Court rules family
members cannot end lives of comatose relatives unless
those relatives previously made their wishes known
-122°F in Phoenix Arizona
- 8 KS. & OK. radio stations
boycott k.d. lang, due to her anti-meat ad
- Salman Rushdie, condemned to death
by Iran, contributes $8600 to help their earthquake
- Emmy 17th Daytime Award presentation
- Susan Lucci loses for 11th time
- World's first female diocesan
Anglican bishop, Dr. Penny Jamieson, appointed,
||- East & West Germany merge
When the View is More than Meets
the Eye: One World Observatory on Opening Day
After what has seemed an eternity,
from that infamous day on 9/11 until a few days ago on May
29, 2015, the public has once again been invited back into
the World Trade Center. Now one building officially named
Freedom Tower, with the top three floors designated as One
World Observatory, like the Phoenix, has risen from the
I stood on line for an hour awaiting the moment,
with the moment running well behind the scheduled time for
our 102 story ascent. Unsurprising, what with this being opening
day and all the attendant frenzy that can accompany Day One
“If you build it they will come.”
And if you re-build it, they will really
come, despite the skepticism behind Chris Rock’s opening
SNL monologue back in November: “…they should
change the name from the Freedom Tower, to the Never-Going-In-There
Tower…there is no circumstance that will ever get me
in that building.” I don’t know what the official
headcount was for that day Chris, but there were a whole lot
of passionate I-Can’t-Wait-To-Get-Into-That-Tower folks
awaiting their turn behind the barricades.
I had been to the original World Trade Center
observatory on a couple of occasions, in which you literally
could go out on the roof for an unobstructed view. So if you’ve
seen one spectacular 360° view, you’ve seen them
all no? Even though this one is officially trademarked as
“See Forever”? (Or at least as far as
Philadelphia). Not so.
begins in anticipation while on the sidewalk and looking up
at a vanishing point on a building which to be honest, is
not one of architectural splendor, nor comparable to other
iconic structures in this city. Even the original World Trade
Center towers were not really a sight to behold, and were
much maligned by critics and public alike when they first
went up. Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between them
in 1974, gave them a personality and a sense of imagination
that was clearly lacking in their design. But entering this
new building, is in itself, an experience unmatched by its
forerunners or even the beloved Empire State Building with
its classic art deco lobby.
You walk beneath street level through bedrock
left exposed, that you are informed by white font lettered
projections upon it, is 425 million years old. (Yet doesn’t
look a day over 424). And the well-orchestrated montage of
talking heads appearing and disappearing—the men who
have built this structure; who work with their hands trying
to put into words what it means to them— already beginning
to put a lump in one’s throat. Hard to imagine, say,
a narration by the builders of the beautiful Chrysler Building
(which I think of as the Marilyn Monroe of skyscrapers), creating
any undercurrent of emotion as you begin to feel here.
This is followed by an elevator ride offering
the techno-wizardry of a panoramic 515 year old history of
this place we call Manhattan. With such stimulation, the arrival
to the top on the 102nd floor, seems far less in time than
the indicated 47 seconds. And when you arrive, you are greeted
by still more video montage on a wall before you.
Then the wall gives way.
And for the first time, you are exposed through
floor-to-ceiling windows, to something real, not virtual,
a VIEW which gives you a chill. And you find yourself, along
with the crowd, breaking out into spontaneous applause.
I had never experienced in a lifetime, a view
getting an ovation. But of course that is not what we are
applauding. We are applauding something more than meets the
eye. We are applauding triumph over tragedy, good over evil,
life affirmation of the human spirit. Which on this day, we
later toasted over a glass of champagne with the world—or
at least the city and parts of New Jersey—beneath our
feet. Corny perhaps, but as they say, you had to be there.
And hopefully at some point you will. Combined with the 9/11
memorial museum below, (“9/11Memorial Museum Opens”
2014 MUSE-LETTER) it will become a point of destination
for visitors and natives alike. Death and rebirth. To get
even more metaphorical about it.
Chewing up the scenery in
performance of the above poem, “Artists Without Walls,”
at The Cell in Chelsea on May 25th. https://www.artistswithoutwalls.com/
As appears on their website:
“Ron offered a quartet of poems that played thematically
with a couple of current pop culture events: the concluding
of the Mad Men series—as he once toiled at an ad agency
on Madison Avenue in the late 60’s —and horse
racing, which is in the midst of its “Triple Crown”
season. He ended with a “send-up poem” about our
esteemed group (“…a gathering that called
itself “Artists Without Walls”/Though they performed
in a space called The Cell”) that was both hilarious
and poignant, and enthusiastically received by an audience
of fellow artists.”