Sunday, 5 August 2012

Yoko Ono: To The Light

Yoko Ono: To The Light
Serpentine Gallery, London

Messages of love and peace resonate throughout the Serpentine's Yoko Ono retrospective. But however well-intentioned, cosy platitudes are no substitute for ideas and action. As an anti-war statement, filling WW2 helmets with jigsaw pieces depicting a blue sky is hopelessly trite. An all-white chessboard is equally hackneyed.

'Amaze' (1971/2012) encompasses her best and worst tendencies. Despite its see-through walls, the perspex maze proves surprisingly tricky to negotiate, and I found myself walking straight into a wall at one point. It's quite an experience, amusing but slightly disorientating. Upon reaching the centre, we see our reflection in a black fountain. So, it's a journey of self-discovery! Spare us such clunking banality.

Much better are her 1960s Fluxus films. There's no straining for profundity, just the simple joys of a smiling John Lennon and a wobbly cavalcade of male bottoms. 'Fly', where a a bluebottle explores a woman's naked body, is particularly mesmeric, with a voyeuristic tinge Ono explores to more disturbing effect in 'Cut Piece' (1965/2003). Ono sits motionless on a stage, while audience members are invited to remove pieces of her clothing with a pair of scissors. The earlier performance carries a nasty charge of misogynistic violence, as one man takes liberties, going far as cutting her bra straps. In the later version, the audience is more respectful, but the years of abuse Ono has endured weigh heavy over proceedings.

Some of Ono's greatest, if most divisive, art is her music, but the only song to be heard here is the slow drip of Lennon's 'Imagine'. How much more thrilling it would have been to hear the avant-rock howl of the Plastic Ono Band rampaging through the Serpentine's elegant rooms. In its bid for middlebrow acceptability, the exhibition has downplayed Ono's more radical contributions.

Until 9 September 2012

Unpublished sample review

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