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Yoko Ono Challenges Notions of High Art

By Tiffany Liu - Located in the Chelsea district of New York City, Yoko Ono’s exhibition, The Riverbed, is divided into two spaces: Galerie Lelong and Andrea Rosen Gallery. The installation is a space for playful contemplation, comprised of three performance pieces where visitors are instructed to participate. Working within the confines of high art yet pushing the boundaries, The Riverbed redefines the position of the artist, challenging notions of high art and art itself.

Ono’s works are non-traditional performance art pieces that are completed through instructional visitor participation.

Like two halves of a whole, Ono encourages participators to visit both galleries for a full participatory experience. Each gallery consists of three pieces: the Stone Piece, the Line Piece, and the Mend Piece.

Here are the given instructions for each:

Stone Piece; Choose a Stone and hold it until all your anger and sadness have been let go.

Line Piece; Take me to the farthest place in our planet by extending the line.

Mend Piece; Mend with wisdom mend with love. It will mend the Earth at the same time.

Specific yet metaphorically vague, the instructions are alluring for their ambiguity.

How can one really know whether these practices will rid participants of their anger and sadness? The impossibility of knowing puts forth the insignificance of measuring art as completed products of finite meaning. The value is not in the pieces as finished works, but in the process of fulfilling Ono’s directions. The meaning of each piece lies in how one completes and experiences them.

In each gallery, my experiences with the artworks changed. For instance, at Andrea Rosen Gallery, the first location I attended, the “Mend Piece” resonated with me the most. However at Galerie Leong, my preference changed and the “Stone Piece” had more impact. In this sense, The Riverbed is as much an exhibition of my work of art as it is Ono’s.

Needless to say, Ono’s The Riverbed challenges both the role of the artist and the gallery.

A traditional idea of the “artist” is one who displays ideas in objects like a painting or a sculpture. Instead, Ono expands the role of the artist to one who provides a space for ideas to emerge. Here, she takes on a more active role, troubling the static role of the gallery and its constituents like the curator.

That her work is showcased in the Chelsea district of art, Ono utilizes humor and public accessibility to poke at high art. As The Riverbed unfolds, amateur artists imprint the exhibition with experimentation of objects. Stones are scattered around, mixed-media ceramic sculptures fill the shelves, and string is installed like a web. Participants are allowed to not only lean on but also draw all over the reputable white walls of elite galleries. In the room installation of Mend Piece, coffee is served where the barista appeared to be in utter boredom. Her playfulness, absurd humor, and trust in the visitors subverts the structures that define high art.


#newyorkcity #america

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