Artists Retrospective Reviews

Before the Museum of Modern (F)art: On Yoko Ono’s First New York Show, in 1961

Yoko Ono with Painting to See in the Dark (Version 1) (1961), as installed at AG Gallery's "Paintings & Drawings by Yoko Ono," in July 1961. Photography by George Maciunas.©2014 GEORGE MACIUNAS

George Maciunas’ photograph of Yoko Ono with her Painting to See in the Dark (Version 1), 1961, as installed at AG Gallery’s ‘Paintings & Drawings by Yoko Ono’ in July 1961.


In honor of the Museum of Modern Art’s “Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971,” we turn back to Ono’s first exhibition ever, held at AG Gallery, which was run by George Maciunas and Almus Salcius, in New York, in July 1961. Staged before Ono became an important member of the Fluxus movement, the exhibition featured Smoke Painting and Painting in Three Stanzas (both 1961), both of which can be seen in the current show at MoMA (where in 1971 she had a show called “The Museum of Modern [F]art”). Gene R. Swenson, an editorial associate who went on to write some of the most important articles about Pop art, reviewed the show in ARTnews’ September 1961 issue. The review follows in full below. —Alex Greenberger

“Yoko Ono”
By Gene R. Swenson

Yoko Ono [Almus] has made a “smoke” painting. It consists of a grimy unstrung canvas with a hole in it. Into the hole she stuck a burning candle, withdrawing it when the canvas began to smolder and smoke on its own. The painting’s limited life was shortened by half a minute for this report, its living presence snuffed out by a damp cloth as soon as the idea became clear. Another picture was accompanied by a poem about life, about death and about the replacement of the ivy growing through two holes in it. $75-$400.

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