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First major survey in Australia of legendary artist, musician and activist Yoko Ono opens in Sydney
Yoko Ono, Wish Tree. Installation view, “THE ROAD OF HOPE”, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, Japan, 2011© Yoko Ono.

SYDNEY.- The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia presents the first major survey in Australia of legendary artist, musician and activist Yoko Ono.

Sydney is the only Australian venue for War Is Over! (if you want it): Yoko Ono, curated specifically for the MCA. The title comes from a text work by Ono and her husband John Lennon that first appeared in 1969 across public billboards in twelve cities worldwide, including New York and London.

The exhibition encompasses five decades of practice in diverse media including eight participatory works. Themes include loss, conflict, humanity and the desire for world peace.

Yoko Ono said: ‘I am very excited and honoured to have my first solo exhibition in Sydney. It is an incredible new show I’ve developed just for you. There are many fantastic installations and participation works from different times. Think peace, act peace, spread peace Sydney. I love you.’

MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent added: ‘The exhibition reaffirms Ono’s firm belief in the power of human agency – specifically, people’s ability to dream of and work towards a better future together.’

Exhibition highlights include Wish Tree for Sydney (1996/2013) presented on the MCA Sculpture Terrace in which visitors are invited to write their private wishes onto small paper cards and tie them to the branches of native Australian trees. Over time, the cards accumulate like blossoms, and the Wish Trees become symbolic of the collective power of our hopes and dreams.

The major installation Telephone in Amaze (1971/2011) is a transparent, maze-like structure which visitors are invited to walk through. At its centre sits a telephone which Ono rings periodically over the course of the exhibition, speaking to whoever answers her call.

Other interactive works include Play it by Trust (1966/2013), a series of purpose-built chess tables for gallery visitors to engage with one another over identical sets of white chess pieces, and Mend Piece (1966/2013) featuring a communal table at which visitors work together to repair broken crockery.

Several works use the sky to symbolise open-mindedness or enlightenment such as Helmets / Pieces of Sky (2001), a suspended installation of World War II military helmets filled with jigsaw puzzle pieces of blue sky which visitors can take away with them; or Sky TV (1966/2013), a closed-circuit direct video feed of the sky into the gallery from the MCA rooftop.

Morning Beams (1996) comprises white lengths of rope which cascade outwards from the ceiling like shafts of natural light into the gallery below and onto Cleaning Piece(Riverbed) (1996), a metaphoric river of life made from eroded pebbles.

Also featured is an archival room of ephemera spanning the 1960s to the present featuring posters, album recordings, conceptual objects, experimental films and the artist’s self-published instruction book Grapefruit.

War Is Over! (if you want it): Yoko Ono is curated by MCA Chief Curator Rachel Kent, who worked with the artist on the realisation of this project and its accompanying publication.

This major exhibition, presented in the Level 3 Galleries, is part of the Sydney International Art Series, bringing the world’s most outstanding exhibitions to Australia.

Born in Tokyo in 1933, Ono entered the Philosophy Department of Gakushuin University in 1952. The following year she moved to New York City where she studied music and poetry at Sarah Lawrence College. By the late 1950s Ono was an active member of New York’s vibrant avant-garde scene, becoming associated with movements such as Fluxus, and presenting experimental works blending forms such as poetry, music, visual arts, film and performance. In 1961, Ono began to exhibit works of art that took the form of ‘instructions’. These early conceptual works involved short written texts that invited viewers to use their powers of imagination and participate actively in the creation of meaning. Later, Ono continued to create new forms of artistic expression that used diverse media and were not limited to specific genres.

Ono frequently involves viewers in the realisation of her art works – from stamping world maps with inked ‘peace’ stamps, to mending broken crockery, to writing private messages of love and care to their mothers.

In addition to her practice as an artist, Yoko Ono has been greatly involved in pro peace activities, and after her marriage to John Lennon in 1969, the couple created numerous events supporting world peace and anti-war campaigns. Throughout the 1970s, their messages of peace spread across the globe and became symbolic representations of the international peace movement. Ono continues today to communicate her message of ‘Love and Peace’ over forty years later.

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