Exhibition Review – Yoko Ono



YO-1This exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney was 4 years in the planning.  It fills the whole of Level 3, with Wish Tree for Sydney on Level 4 in the Sculpture Terrace, so it is a significant event.

It is extremely well presented with plenty of space between installations and lighting that has been positioned to enhance the experience.  Much of the work encourages viewer participation which I found built a bond between artist and viewer.

None of the work is new, i.e. created specifically for this exhibition, and each have been shown multiple times before – the performance art having been performed by multiple people around the world over the years.  Having said that, some of the exhibits are adapted specifically for certain venues / locations / countries.

HELMETS – Pieces of Sky (2001/2013)

YO-4Sky and sky images have become a feature within her work.  During the second world war Yoko and her siblings were sent to safety in the country, away from the war-torn cities.  She remembers this as a time of hunger and has described how they used to lie flat on the ground staring at the sky above and imagining the cloud shapes as food.  As they were always hungry they made menus up in their heads.

This exhibit, which fills an entire large room, consists of many helmets suspended upside down from the ceiling, each one containing blue sky jigsaw pieces.  The helmets change depending on where this installation is shown.  They are intended to resonate with the locals with regard to their specific war history and enemies at the time.  Here we have German helmets but I understand elsewhere they are Italian ones and so on.  Every visitor is encouraged to take a piece of the jigsaw and it is her hope that one day each person will return and contribute to building a new sky together.

Considering the subject matter this relates to I was surprised to find the space felt remarkably calm and serene.  It’s a busy exhibition but when I was there everyone was silent as they walked through this installation.  It was very like visiting a war cemetery.  Actually, quite eerie.


YO-3Hard to gauge size from a photograph but the furniture is life-size in this piece.

Whilst Yoko concentrates most often on positive messages – world peace, making the world a better place and so on – in keeping with Buddhist principles – she also shows that for each positive there is a negative.  The exhibition brochure describes this piece as having an undercurrent of violence, but her personal artist statement alongside it states:

Build a room with a strong electric magnet set on the left side wall so everything in the room is drawn to the left a little in time.

This will be a good balance for your mind which is going to the right a little in time.

Is that an undercurrent of violence?

PLAY IT BY TRUST (1966-2013)

YO-2This interactive chess installation has been shown in many formats over the years from long tables with multiple sets displayed, to small spaces for couples to play.  There have even been enlarged outdoor sets in various materials including wood, marble and plastic.  Here she has created six two-people table-and-chair sets in stark white.  Her inspiration for these particular sets came from the huge white tiled sails of Sydney Opera House which can be clearly viewed from the upper level of the gallery.

All the chess pieces are white and this serves to create an atmosphere of trust as opposed to the usual emotion of competitiveness that comes with this type of game challenge.  Concentration is required so the players remember which are their own pieces and, obviously, as the games progress, moves, pieces and control becomes blurred adding to the confusion.  In these circumstances the idea of competition dies as neither player can really be sure of where they are.  So a feeling of camaraderie becomes apparent as opposed to opposition.  There are six tables included in this exhibit and they were all full every time I went past.  There were even people waiting to play as soon as a game was finished, in whatever manner.

An excellent concept, in my view.

MORNING BEAMS (1996)  & Cleaning Piece – Riverbed (1996)

YO-5100 white shipping ropes, held taut and anchored to the floor represent light rays.  Around these are positioned two piles of river stones.  Originally Yoko asked people to think of every sadness in their life and to place a stone down.  The pile grew.  She then asked them to recall moments of joy and create another stone pile.

Again this harks back to Buddhist thought, good and evil, happy and sad, right and wrong ……. each balances the other.  In this case human emotion and interaction.

I particularly liked some of the shadowplay in this exhibit.


Throughout the artspace the individual exhibit positioning and lighting was a major feature of this exhibition and the curator, Rachel Kent, took a lot of effort to ensure the pieces are seen at their best.  During an evening lecture at the museum which I attended she explained just how the exhibition came to fruition, the interaction she had with Yoko Ono and the sourcing of particular items which Yoko requested.  It was very worthwhile attending that before viewing the works as I was able to appreciate their value and messages with much more understanding.


Exhibition catalogue,

Artist statements

Evening lecture at MCA

 www.mca.com.au/exhibition/war-over-if-you-want-it-yoko-ono/?gclid=CP_b0MjUhLwCFcdYpQodoycAig – Short videos on MCA website concerning the event.


About Claire B

I am a passionate printmaker, paper maker and book artist. I'm a 'forever' student and frequently attend courses and workshops to extend and improve my creative skills.
This entry was posted in Textiles 1: Exploring Ideas and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Exhibition Review – Yoko Ono

  1. Pingback: Exhibition: Yoko Ono. War is Over! … | Fibres of Being

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