Don't be fooled by the metallic cover: although this extensively documented book finally gives Yoko Ono her due as a protean conceptual and performing artist, YES Yoko Ono is no celebrity bio. It is actually a rigorous analysis--by experts in modern Japanese and contemporary Western art, performance, video, and music--of the innovative approaches that made Ono a seminal avant-garde figure in the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and continued to influence her work during the next three decades.
Ono was born in 1933 in Japan to a wealthy and pedigreed family. In her early work, the pan-artistic classical Japanese approach to culture mingles with her Zen-like search for moments of concentrated sensory experience and the anti-heroic stance of the young American artists she would meet in New York upon her arrival (with her first husband, a composer) in 1956. Also significant was her sense of herself as an outsider. She spent her early childhood in the U.S. with her family, only to be snubbed by Japanese schoolmates on her return.
In Secret Piece, from 1953, Ono wrote a musical score consisting of nothing but two half-notes in the bass line and a scribbled notation: "With the accompaniment of birds singing at dawn." It became one of the brilliantly inventive instructions for making art pieces in her 1964 book, Grapefruit, an early conceptual work. Since those heady days, she has continued to explore the possibilities, stumbling sometimes (the inert bronze sculptures of the '80s) but never abandoning her fascination with elemental feeling and observation.
YES Yoko Ono accompanies an exhibition at the Japan Society Gallery in New York (October 18, 2000, through January 14, 2001) that will travel to numerous venues in North America and Asia, beginning with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. --Cathy Curtis