SKY PIECE FOR JESUS CHRIST: A night with Yoko Ono
February 13, 2013
By Nadja Sayej
Everyone was star struck. Everyone. The security guards, the audience, the bar staff, the TV cameramen – even the journalists. Yoko Ono was in calm center of an admiring audience in German’s financial capital, Frankfurt.
Bankers from the nearby skyscrapers gathered alongside curators in coloured pantyhose in the wooden seats of an old monastery, crowned with a Christian cross. There was a busy crowd making their way into the old building, with many dressed in shiny patent shoes, chunky orange jewellery and black-rimmed glasses. Old women with long, bleached hair stood ready with their cameras. Fans in Beatles sweaters brought Yoko’s Grapefruit book to be signed. Young intellectual types leaned against the wall, blaze, as if in the walls of Hunter College. Everyone was here to see Sky Piece for Jesus Christ.
The live performance was created in collaboration with the Schirn Kunsthalle (you might remember their Jeff Koons show), which is hosting the Half-A-Wind Show, the biggest European retrospective of Ono's conceptual work since the 1960s. She came to Germany to mount the show, the performance and to celebrate her 80th birthday in Berlin.
Sky Piece was first shown it in 1965 at Carnegie Hall. Eleven young musicians from the Young German Philharmonic were wrapped in gauze as they played short classical pieces – until they could no longer play. They didn’t struggle, they just stopped, blinded by gauze wrapped around the necks of their instruments, their eyes, their mouths, legs and everything in between. No surprise then Yoko came deep from the avant-garde scenes where the Fluxus kids would hang out (she was the only girl). John Cage was sometimes referred to as ‘JC’ or Jesus Christ as a leading cult figure in the avant-garde music scene; some might say he was celebrated “like Jesus.”
Now, almost 50 years later, Ono is the celebrated religious figure. The short, bony and radiating Ono entered the room raising both arms doing the peace sign. She was wearing her traditional all-black outfit, black slightly bell bottom pants with a sheer black button-up shirt with a tank top underneath. A black hat was tilted to the left side of her head and she wore her trademark black sunglasses, smiling with no makeup. The audience burst into applause.
There were six bodyguards in the front row. Two, which follow her everywhere, and four others to make sure people don’t take pictures during the performance – there was a clearly instructed sign outside. One official photographer was assigned to take the pictures for the night, and there would be no competition.
The blonde curator, Ingrid Pfeiffer took the stage to introduce the performance, almost bursting into tears in humble honour.
The performance starts. The young group of musicians stepped onto the stage and started to play a familiar classical piece. While they’re playing, eight women in all-black came out from backstage and began wrapping the musicians in gauze bandages.
The audience laughs, here and there, as the musicians tried to play while being wrapped in bandages. Over the course of thirty minutes, all the gauze from the nearby side tables was gone. The musicians almost could have continued to play, breaking the barrier from classical to experimental musicianship, but they didn’t. They gave up. Their instruments fell to a hush and they were lifted offstage by Yoko and her handlers.
After the show, Yoko got onstage to make a wall painting on paper with large Japanese characters (the floor was dotted with ink). She then explained why a broken German vase was sitting in a pile on the floor – the crowd was each to each grab a piece of the vase. “We’ll all meet back here in 10 years to put the vase together,” she said.
“Please take one piece of a shattered vase, keep it for goodness and put it together,” said Yoko. “It has life. People create a possible life and with such pieces, shattered grey. It will become an incredible thing for all of us.”
“I love you very much,” were her last words. She leaned her head down and got off the stage.
Cool, Yoko. See you in 2023.
Nadja Sayej is a Canadian journalist, broadcaster and internationally-acclaimed art critic who is best known as the leader of the new art criticism with her web-TV show, ArtStars*. In her balls-out, snappy Gonzo approach to demystify the inner workings of success in the art world, she has interviewed top-notch art world celebrities like Gilbert & George, John Waters, Peaches, Bruce LaBruce, Robert Crumb, among others, with unmatchable wit and style. Dubbed the “Perez Hilton of Neukölln,” “Borat of the Berlin art scene,” Nadja is represented by 1A Management in Berlin. She reports on visual art and architecture for The New York Times. Follow her on Twitter @ArtStars.view all articles from this author