May 2008, Yoko Ono @ Galerie Lelong

Composite photo taken during the opening by Claudia Schwalb

Yoko Ono
Touch Me
April 18 through May 31, 2008
Galerie Lelong
528 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001

Yoko Ono’s work has always been about the innocence of immaculate perception. She has a personal, yet very universal perspective. She externalizes some, but doesn’t excel at it and suffers at it. Two JVC black & white televisions in Cut Piece, 1965/2003 show a young Yoko in a cotton blouse over a white brassiere. On the bottom she wears black tights. A man with a pompadour, pants made of sharkskin fabric, and a beautiful smile dons scissors with which he cuts her blouse open revealing her large breasts and a vintage white cotton bra underneath. There is suspense as the crowd watches her as she holds her arms crossed over her breasts, apprehensively like a seven sisters schoolgirl would have been taught to do. Actually, she attended Sarah Lawrence College. Always static, Yoko has another installation of Cut Piece with two more video monitors. Older, this time, she is sitting in a chair.

Self portraits, first implemented by artists during the time of the Medici’s have gone through an evolution and devolution. Today, the Uffizi Gallery still collects certain artists who are mysteriously international like Boris Zaborov (b. 1935, Minsk, Republic of Belarus, Mimi Ferzt Gallery. ). His work resembles Andrew Wyeth (American contemporary, realist painter, b. 1917) and is done in acrylic with earthy, muted surfaces. Similarly, Yoko Ono’s old photos in sepia tones covered with porch screens fabricated with industrial metal frames in Memory Paintings, 1998 are all white.

A burned woman of around forty, a skinny girl with her blurry auntie, a dust bowl portrait with a mannish thirty year old with her hand on her face, a fading boy, maybe a baseball player of twenty-one, a classically beautiful blonde, twenty-five, blue-eyed with a high reddish neckline, a face of a young woman, a girl in overalls, another classical girl child lead up to a tall girl in a black and white top. Elizabeth Peyton, whose hand was deformed by thalidomide (Gavin Brown's Enterprise) is also popular, possibly as a defense for the art world’s sensationalistic tendencies. Her show opens on the same night.

Dictators cling to the old ground levels, self-destructing like the misguided Latin American artist, Ana Mendieta who fell out of a 33-story window during her stormy marriage to genius sculptor, Carl Andre. In Family Album Exhibit M: High Heel Shoes, 1993 a pedestal with a pair of what I assume are her own, bronzed Charles Jourdan heels say “Made in France.” Similarly, substance abusers, alcoholics, people who give lip service to reality, the family unit and God. Most family units self-implode anyway since it’s all about narcicism, personality disorders, self-centered obsessions, and idolatry.

Thinking about life and death, John Lennon’s assassination was a terrible shock. In Vertical Memory, twenty stretched faces which look just like Ms. Ono, but consist of a composite of her father, husband and son are lined up in plexiglass boxes. Underneath are descriptions engraved into plexiglass. Doctor - I remember being born. Father - Arrived in San Francisco two and a half years old. Stranger - Loses Mother, scares her. Teacher - Shosei, a young, male escort to take her to school. Doctor II - War, Nagano Prefecture, younger brother and sister, maid - avoid bombing, ill from malnutrition, sexually abused. Doctor III - Appendix out. He has one tooth missing and is an alcoholic. Doctor IV - Tonsils out. Doctor V - Psychiatrist. Doctor VI - Wisdom teeth out. Doctor VII - A few abortions. Doctor VIII - Delivery of son and daughter. Artist I, II, III, IV, V, VI. Priest - Last Rights - “Suggested I give last confession. I refused.” Doctor IX - “You can’t close my mind’s eye.” Attendant - “What percentage of my life did I take it lying down? That was my last question.”

Portraits are a part of a visual, historical memory. While artist’s muses are many times exclusive to a specific artist’s lifetime, in the art world of the present day, artists compete for entire ideologies. They can’t, as in the case of Richard Serra, separate their sponsorship from their own input, and therefore cannot understand the effect of the entirety or of the whole being more beautiful than the parts.

Frank Gehry’s architecture as art conveyed a new realm that has nothing to do with the old gages of value. It is a post-architectural ground and systemic that is in place now. A much larger focus exists on a post-architectural level. At the same time many who were not so long ago perceived as invincible and impenetrable are now caught up in a time warp which they can’t disassociate themselves from.

It also has to do with being in vignettes or boxes. The new architecture still has boxes like in a honeycomb, but the game isn’t about being alpha as much as about the life of the genius as he was creating his work. So, it’s about what the artist went through and not firstly, about his or her muse like in Ono’s sculpture, Touch Me III - body parts, water, we wet our hands and touch soft plastic molds within black wood boxes. John Currin (Gagosian Gallery) has been exploring very explicit subject matter in which I think he really exposes his sexual preferences. They are not Gisella Bundchen, but are rather portly, little blondes.

A very large interactive piece, Touch Me I, reminiscent of Lucio Fontana’s cut paintings is a wall-length gessoed cotton mural with cuts throughout. Women are sticking their high heeled shoes through and being photographed with Polaroid cameras. Messages can be written on the pictures and they can be exhibited on another giant mural, Touch Me II.

Richard Jordan, a young performance artist who resides in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn felt that Yoko Ono raised the first question about this new point of view. He believes that it is essential to be able to carve out your own path in the arts. On the selection committee of the Hoboken Film Festival he admits that his favorite movie is “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” by Tim Burton.

After Galerie Lelong, Yoko Ono will have shows at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, Northern England, and at the Bluecoat Art Centre in Liverpool, England. She will also have a permanent installation at the new center in Towada City, Japan.

Claudia Schwalb

Schwalb graduated from Pratt Institute in 1974.  She was an emerging artist during the Minimalist movement in the 1970's.  She was raised in New York City during the Abstract Expressionist era. Claudia was the youngest artist ever to have a solo exhibition at The Clocktower/P.S.1 in 1977.  Claudia went on to write for Barbara Rose's Journal of Art and was one of the Contributing Editors of Cover/Arts New York along with John Yau and Judd Tully (Editor-at-Large for Arts & Auction).  She was Curator of the Knitting Factory and a television news transcriber for Peter Jennings' World News Tonight.  Subsequently, Claudia transcribed two movies, "Refuge" and "Interview with the Dalai Lama" which played at the Quad last year.

view all articles from this author