I’ve never been enamored with Yoko Ono. Her career has value, but I regard it to be significant as a cultural bridge, not for any isolated aspect. When considering each of the multiple disciplines of her work, within their own contexts, they fall flat. She’s a Trojan Horse. She receives allowances in the art-world because of her role in pop-culture. Her endurance as a figure in pop-culture is more related to the art-world’s validation than the music she makes. This isn’t a dismissal. Every generation has figures who help break down the walls between progressive views and dogma. They are incredibly important. What makes them bad is what makes them good. This is how I regard bands like Animal Collective. I don’t like their music, but their career has reduced the boundaries between more adventurous sound, and the rest of culture. They’re an aural bridge which has helped people grow. Personal taste can’t detract from the significance of this.
Most people are familiar with the fact that Ono began her career as an artist. She was an early member of Fluxus, and as such a creator of conceptual art. Within the orthodox narrative of Fluxus I encountered when studying Art History twenty years ago, Ono was considered to be a fairly minor figure in the movement. It’s hard to say if this was a byproduct of the elitism of historians, or an accurate portrayal. Either way, times have changed and Ono is currently regarded as a central figure in the 1960’s avant-garde. I personally find her works wanting, but each to their own.
One of most important aspects of Fluxus was its breaking of divisions between visual art and sound / music. George Maciunas, John Cage, La Monte Young, Henry Flynt, Tony Conrad, Charlotte Moorman, and Nam June Paik, among others, all contributed to this. Long before she met John Lennon, Ono joined this collective bridge toward sound. She was responsible for the series of concerts at her loft (with La Monte Young), which now hold iconic status in the history of the avant-garde music, and in 1961 premiered her first gesture of the conceit.
A Grapefruit in the World of Park was first performed at the Village Gate, and then shortly after at Carnegie Hall. The work consisted of Ono reading a text over a recording of atonal music, laughter and inaudible speech. To my knowledge there are no images or recordings of either performance. It’s impossible to consider it much further, without much to go on, but it’s also not the point. What we should regard is what Ono was trying to achieve. She took art out of the gallery and placed it in the concert hall, and made art embedded with music. Within her context that was a radical gesture. The quality of the work is of little matter against the doors she opened for others.
Though I’m dubious about the motives behind her recent retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in NY (another gesture of gross populism?), I do think Ono deserves a place in history. Considering this, I present the original hand typed text of A Grapefruit in the World of Park, with a few other related documents. As with so many things, it’s worth approaching what they did, versus what they are.