Art Itinerary: Summer of Yoko Ono at Hirshhorn
svetlana | Jun 16, 2017 | 10:00AM |

After a blockbuster season (Ragnar! Kusama! Shadow/Casters!), and right before the Ai Weiwei summer dynamo hits, Hirshhorn is taking time for a gentler, more meditative celebration. Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree For Washington celebrates its 10th year anniversary in the museum’s garden and to mark the occasion and the start of the summer, starting June 17, the Hirshhorn is opening a special focus of iconic artworks by Yoko Ono, and the artist is inviting thousands of visitors to contribute.

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The occasion is also the first major undertaking Mark Beasley, the museum’s inaugural curator of Media and Performance Art, so we used this as an opportunity to catch up with him on both this project and the future of those two disciplines at Hirshhorn.

Wish Tree For Washington has collected over 80,000 wishes in the garden, over the past ten summers and is being joined by three other major Ono initiatives:

  • 40-foot wall installation “My Mommy Is Beautiful” in the museum’s lobby which also relies on public participation, inviting the audience to leave to leave memories of their mother.
  • Ono‘s live-stream video work “Sky TV for Washington, DC,” opens the same day and is one of Beasley’s first acquisitions at the museum.
  • A daylong concert of Ono‘s music in September with major local and national performers (more details on this coming soon, Beasley promises).

All the projects touch closely on some of Beasley’s passion points: new media art, the intersection and interaction of music and art, and the interactivity between the audience and the artist, all of which Ono’s work embodies.

Sky TV especially, he mentions, is an exciting addition because it touches on his roots is New Media, a key work in closed circuit TV used in contemporary art, and one of the first pieces to to harness the instant feedback capability of the video camera. In Yoko Ono’s words, this is, “a TV just to see the sky.”

Sky TV for Washington 1966/2014 – courtesy of Hirshhorn

It brings a live image of the outdoors into the gallery, rain or shine, twenty-four hours a day. When the work was first conceived, in 1966, the artist lived in a windowless space and, “Wanted so desperately to have a sky in my apartment.” The simplicity of its imagery was especially radical at a time before the popularity of videotape and when all material seen onscreen was created by commercial broadcast companies.

The music is another natural connection between Ono and Beasley. Beasley has worked with everyone from Mike Kelley to Nicholas Bullen to David Byrne  and is clearly excited at the opportunity to add Ono to the list. “She is a noise music pioneer, and a stepping stone. So many bands owe some of their their sound to Plastic Ono.” Over the last few months Ono and him have been working on an international roster of musicians to interpret her work.  The line-up for the September showcase that this side of the project will culminate in, is still a secret but Beasley promises it will be, “very exciting,” and the process of creating it was, “very collaborative,” with Ono being actively engaged. At the end of the concert Ono will present one of her own works. A vase will be smashed to pieces and audience invited to take them, with the hope of the vase being reconstructed after and sent to Iceland where Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower is located.

This event will also mark the end of the Wish Tree wish collection for the season. The same time the museum is hoping to collect over 8,000 well wishes from the tree and they will, as well, make their way to Imagine Peace Tower.

What are Beasley’s hopes for the show, beyond the expected participation? “The goal,” he says, “is to always support the voice of the artist in the way they hope to be represented. For those not familiar with Yoko Ono’s work, this summer is a generous introduction, and for those familiar with it – a great opportunity to reconnect with the artist.”

And after Ono, what are Mark Beasley’s plans for the museum? Primarily, he hopes to support new media, from video to interactive to CGI installations, with some new acquisitions he is very excited about, like the works by Francis Stark and Arthur Joffe, which use popular forms and subvert them for effect.

And, of course, amplify the museum’s focus more on performance art, and the bodies in space, taking into account the elliptical nature of the museum’s building. “From the futurists to now, performance art has been the crux of change, with the ability to find the energy that exists in the world and translate it into the art public space. Thirty years a go, photography needed special exhibition spaces built for it, and not it is part of all the major museum collections. It is time for the same thing to happen for performance art.”

We, for one, are excited to see where Beasley takes us next.

The Summer of Yoko Ono kicks off tomorrow, June 17th. Learn more about it here.