In 1971, 10 years after her photo shoot, Ono returned to MoMA’s Sculpture Garden. This time she brought with her a large container filled with flies, scented with the perfume Ma Griffe. She uncorked the bottle and released the multitude of flies, letting them swarm and spread from the Sculpture Garden, through the Museum’s galleries, and into the city beyond. At least, that’s what she claimed she did. The exhibition did exist, but not in a conventional sense. Instead of displaying work within MoMA’s galleries, she created an exhibition that existed largely in one’s mind—an exercise of the imagination as opposed to a material product. To make the public aware of her exhibition, Ono ran an advertisement in The Village Voice and The New York Times and self-published a catalogue. When curious visitors arrived at the Museum, the only evidence of the show was a man wearing a sandwich board outside the entrance explaining the exhibition’s premise; there was no trace of Ono or her legion of imaginary flies. Perplexing, thought provoking, and amusing, Ono infiltrated the Museum’s walls and the consciousness of its visitors without having any work on display. The title of our current exhibition is drawn from this unsanctioned, conceptual exhibition, Yoko Ono: One Woman Show.
This renegade 1971 exhibition (irreverently subtitled Museum Of Modern (F)art) went largely unrecognized in the decades that followed. In 2008, Ono’s longstanding engagement with the Museum began to be more closely examined when MoMA received the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift. The gift included over 100 of Ono’s works and related ephemera, significantly increasing the Museum’s holdings of this influential artist. As curators, collection specialists, archivists, registrars, and conservators combed their way through the vast acquisition, the vital role that Ono played in the avant-garde art scenes of New York, Tokyo, and London in the 1960s became increasingly evident. The Museum had exhibited works by Ono before and her career as a visual artist and musician was widely known and appreciated, but the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift enabled Museum staff to uncover her groundbreaking artistic contributions from this early period of her career. </em>
Like the imaginary flies she released in the Sculpture Garden, Ono’s work spread throughout the Museum during the 2010 exhibition, Contemporary Art from the Collection, curated by Christophe Cherix and Kathy Halbreich. In the Marron Atrium, Ono and museum visitors performed her 1961 Voice Piece for Soprano, filling the space with sound and imbuing the Museum with her relentless energy. Her site-specific Whisper Piece, comprised instruction works that the artist wrote directly onto the walls and floors of the Contemporary Galleries, and in the Sculpture Garden Ono invited the participation and collaboration of MoMA’s visitors to realize her work, Wish Tree for MoMA.
Now, in Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971, MoMA celebrates the homecoming of Yoko Ono to its galleries with works that range from film to sculpture, painting to anti-war campaigns, avant-garde performance to popular and experimental music. The exhibition is not contained within the walls of the Museum but, in true Ono fashion, seeps out into the Sculpture Garden, the site where Ono’s relationship with MoMA began. Here visitors are invited to play a match on an exhibition copy of Ono’s White Chess Set (1966/2015) and join us on June 21, the summer solstice, to participate in a worldwide celebration of her Morning Piece (1964) at an event hosted by PopRally. Over 40 years ago, Yoko Ono imagined a one woman show at MoMA and at last the vision of this pioneering artist and indomitable creative spirit has been realized.