WASHINGTON — You can’t write music history without Yoko Ono’s impact on The Beatles.
But the Tokyo native is more than just John Lennon’s widow; she’s a creator of conceptual multimedia, blending technology, audience participation and social activism everywhere from exhibits at New York’s Museum of Modern Art to a Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale.
“She’s important for many reasons,” Hirshhorn curator Mark Beasley told WTOP. “I really enjoy her generosity in making work. You might see it as extreme and minimal, but actually behind it, it’s really human. There’s a lot of heart there. … I think she creates this space in which people can engage and be creative. Part of our project is offering that to people.”
This weekend, the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden pays tribute with a special Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington and the World from 7-10 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25.
“There’s a whole generation of musicians operating under the genre ‘noise music,’ which Yoko was out pushing the limits of back in the ’60s,” Beasley said. “The kids in D.C. or 300 noise bands in Brooklyn all owe some kind of debt to Yoko. Yes, she did the pop stuff with John Lennon, but she was also ahead of the field with an album like ‘Fly.’ The way she approached making music connected to her Japanese roots and sounds coming out in the ’60s and ’70s.”
The concert will be outdoors on the museum plaza with a cash bar and live performances by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Lizzi Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance and Moor Mother.
“These musicians have independently thought about her music or spoken highly of her,” Beasley said. “In the ’60s, Yoko produced a book called ‘Grapefruit,’ which [had] a number of instructions for making music and making art. So I invited the musicians to select two or three of the scores and present them. They’ve also chosen to rework some of her poetry.”
You’ll also see rare footage from Ono’s early avant-garde films.
“It’s interspersed with key films by Yoko,” Beasely said. “We’re gonna screen a film called ‘Bottoms.’ … It’s a number of people she met over time walking away from the camera naked, so you see their behinds. … We’re [also] screening ‘Fly,’ which literally follows a fly crawling around Yoko’s body and was played live on American TV in the ’60s, which is incredible to me.”
The concert event is the fourth and final entry in Hirshhorn’s summer series “Yoko Ono: Four Works for Washington and the World,” which commemorates the 10th anniversary of Ono’s Wish Tree for Washington D.C., which was planted in the sculpture garden as a gift in 2007.
Since then, summer visitors have tied nearly 80,000 handwritten wishes to the tree’s branches, which are then collected and sent to Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland.
“It’s essentially a proposition to the public, quite a generous one, to think for a moment, make a wish, write it down and tie it to the tree,” Beasley said. “Every summer, the Wish Tree opens again, in the winter it’s dormant, but it’s open to anyone to make any wish they want.”
A similar interactive concept can be found in the lobby exhibit “My Mommy is Beautiful,” a 40-foot long canvas inviting visitors to attach notes, photos and memories of their mothers.
“Like the Wish Tree, it’s interactive,” Beasley said. “Again, it’s inviting people to reflect, take a moment, think about what motherhood means, what matriarchy means and write down a statement, leave a photograph of their mother or a drawing. It’s really a very hopeful moment just to think about what it means. Mothers are creative, they’re the creative beings.”
The final exhibit is “Sky TV,” a 24-hour live feed of the sky providing a window to the world.
“It’s the first time that CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) was ever used in artwork,” Beasley said. “It’s basically a camera pointed at the sky over Washington live-relayed back to the museum. You’ll see on the monitor, sometimes it looks like a very abstract painting, other times it’s very clearly a sky. It was thought of when she was in a windowless apartment in New York.”
Even after the Hirshhorn exhibits close, Ono’s legacy will remain with a new mural at Union Market titled “Relax. Your Heart is Stronger Than What You Think.” It’s the inaugural project of Hirshhorn in the City, an initiative to exhibit contemporary art beyond the museum walls.
“The Hirshhorn is much more than iconic architecture and world-class collections,” Hirshhorn director Melissa Chiu said. “Our goal is to bring people and ideas together to shape 21st century culture. Washingtonians are an incredible source of creative innovation. Union Market fully embraces this aspect of the city, making it an ideal home for Ono’s newest work.”
In the end, come check out these five tributes to an enduring creative spirit.
“She’s somebody that decade on decade is still relevant and has something to say,” Beasley said. “If you’re five decades and still producing strong work, you have to listen to that. I would encourage everybody to be at the concert on Sunday and see a small part of what she’s put out into the world. It’s great to see women on the mount, screaming out into the void.”
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