A Conversation With Yoko Ono

The Paley Center / New York, NY

Yoko Ono Infinite Universe at Dawn, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Anthony DeCurtis, The Paley Center,
Photo by Suzanne Cadgene

Not everyone is a longtime Yoko Ono fan, but after her candid, relaxed interview with Anthony DeCurtis, fence-sitting attendees became fans. On the stump for her new book, Yoko Ono Infinite Universe at Dawn, a beautiful and pricy ($500) retrospective of her considerable body of fine and performance art (not her music), Ono remained animated, alert, upbeat and unflappable as she spoke about her works, the inspiration behind them and her artistic commitment.

Now in her early 80s (she was almost eight years older than John Lennon), Ono looks closer to 60, and spoke with the enthusiasm of a girl. Arms constantly in motion, she frequently peers over her oversized glasses to make a point; less frequently and very briefly, Ono smiles. She repeated the phrase “that’s interesting” often, as in, “People didn’t like me. I thought, That’s interesting.”

Against a changing backdrop of photos of her works, and herself and John Lennon through the years, Ono talked about her belief that art—traditionally not to be touched by the viewing public—should involve the viewer. For her famous “Cut Piece” project, for example, Ono sat in a chair wearing a favorite outfit and invited viewers to cut the clothes off her with scissors, bit by bit. Ono did not reprise that work this week, but did bring a “Wish Tree,” another of her conceptual, communal art projects. We strangers wrote our wishes on ordinary paper tags and tied them to bare tree branches, together creating a plant whose every paper leaf/wish looked alike. Not all of her projects—even with Lennon’s involvement—proved successful, as when the couple tried to invent a dance craze where people rolled around on the floor. “It didn’t happen,” Ono stated.

For a variety of reasons, Ono’s not an easy interview. She addresses each question with an answer, complete and perfectly formed, without a trailing thought to hook the next question to, so it never felt like a conversation. Many of her responses reminded me of a very bright child who hasn’t yet adopted societal mores and might say, “This is boring” where an adult would change the subject. When DeCurtis asked her, for example, “Is there anything else you’d like to say to our audience?” Ono matter-of-factly replied, “No, I think we’re done.” [Silence.] And thus, we were.

– Suzanne Cadgène

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