May 13, 2020

During these uncertain times, SMoCA has invited artists and staff to utilize our blog Inspire as an outlet to make meaningful connections by sharing personal reflections and insight into their practice.

Why Grapefruit is exactly what we need right now?

Book cover for Grapefruit by Yoko Ono

Art has the ability to inspire us in ways that nothing else can. It can challenge us to see things differently, compel us to engage in new ways, and can simply just move us (or even make us move). This is especially true of the early work of Yoko Ono from the 1950s – 1960s, what Ono called “instruction pieces.” These were text-based works that outlined instructions for actions to be carried out by an individual, other than artist herself, to create a work of art. This, at the time was (and perhaps for some still is), quite radical because it called into question the very concept of what an artwork could be and challenged the role of the artist. It is this work that is now being more widely acknowledged as some of the earliest examples of conceptual art. 

Yoko Ono was not only one of the founding members of Fluxus, but her work also inspired Intermedia, an interdisciplinary, conceptually driven approach to art-making. Her contributions to the art world have widely been under-recognized though, like many women artists, and this is also partially due to the fame that came with being associated with John Lennon. She had to contend with the scrutiny of being thrust onto an international stage and was subject to the media and public’s harsh judgement, always being watched, admired, and even despised, all while maintaining an artistic practice. However, there is more to Yoko Ono than her celebrity and notoriety for being married to a famous musician.

SMoCA is privileged to have Yoko Ono’s work, Mend Piece For John (1968) in our collection, and currently part of the Unapologetic: All Women, All Year exhibition. This work is one of her later instruction pieces inspired by John Lennon at the beginning of their relationship. It asks the participant to, “Take your favorite cup. Break it in many pieces with a hammer. Repair it with this glue and this poem.” So, with this piece, Ono is asking the participant to play an active role in destroying a physical object, but also to use their imagination, creativity, and a little glue to mend it. Essentially, the outcome of the object is less important than the experience or process itself of creating, which is paramount to Ono’s instruction pieces.  

Yoko Ono, SMS: Mend Piece for John, 1968. Plastic bag, box, tube of glue, ribbon, paper. Purchased with funds provided by David and Sara Lieberman.

Imagination was important to Ono as a child living through the devastation in Tokyo during World War II because it gave her hope for the future when life was so uncertain. Imagination continues to be an important aspect in her artistic practice today. She viewed her instruction pieces as imagination exercises and was essentially inviting the viewer to make the work in their mind, at home, or in the gallery space. In 1964, Ono compiled all of her instruction pieces and self-published an anthology called Grapefruit. The instructions in Grapefruit make art more accessible in that it empowers the viewer to realize works by engaging directly with the artist through use of text. Ono was proving that art can exist outside the boundaries of a museum or gallery, and with this work the viewer is no longer passively viewing an object that the average person could never afford to own, instead being an active participant in the creation of art. Ono was so ahead of her time with this thinking. One could even say that with her instruction pieces, Yoko Ono created the foundation for the #MuseumFromHome movement we are currently experiencing, which is perhaps why now is the perfect time to revisit these works of Ono’s.   

The DIY sensibility to her instructions in Grapefruit inspire us to use our imagination and spark creative thinking in new ways. They are a great way to incorporate art into your home in a uniquely accessible way, one that no specialized skill set or materials are needed. Over the next few weeks, we will be selecting some of our favorite excerpts from Grapefruit and challenging you to take them on at home and inspire creativity and joy. Are you ready to take the #GrapefruitAtHome Challenge?

If you are interested in getting your own copy of Grapefruit, it is still in print and can be purchased at an affordable price at many online retailers and local bookstores.

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