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Yoko Ono Finds Zen in Broken Teacups

In a three-part installation, artist and peace activist Yoko Ono invites us to mend the universe (and broken teacups)

By Sara Cunningham

The new Yoko Ono Gardiner Museum show, The Riverbed, runs from Feb 22 – June 3.

We’re all familiar with the sound of breaking glass. It’s a noise often heard at the end of hearty, wine-drenched meals, when sweeping up a zillion invisible shards feels like purgatory. Beneath our grumblings about having an extra chore to do, though, is something bigger: a split-second, clumsy encounter with one of life’s many irrevocable events.

Yoko Ono, “Mend Piece”, 1966/2003, Utopia Station, Venice Bienale, 2003, Photo by Karla Merrifield ©Yoko Ono

As peace activist and artist, Yoko Ono finds solace from such moments in collective action. And so, The Riverbed, comprised of three participatory projectsis both an installation and call-to-action. In Ono’s world, a smashed cup is an invitation for the community to meditate, and mend what’s broken.

Yoko Ono Gardiner Museum The Riverbed Mend Piece
Yoko Ono, Mend Piece (Galerie Lelong, New York 2015/2016), 1966 / 2015, Ceramic, glue, tape, scissors, and twine, Dimensions variable; Installation view: THE RIVERBED, Galerie Lelong, New York, December 11, 2015 – January 30, 2016 © Yoko Ono, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

First exhibited in swinging 1966, Mend Piece asks visitors to piece together fragments of broken cups and saucers with humble materials: Elmer’s glue, string and transparent tape. The resulting wabi-sabi formations are displayed on shelves in an all-white room. “As you mend the cup,” says Ono, “mending that is needed elsewhere in the Universe gets done as well.”

Yoko Ono Gardiner Museum The Riverbed Mend Piece
Line Piece, 2015, Materials variable, Dimensions variable; Installation view: THE RIVERBED, Galerie Lelong, New York, December 11, 2015 – January 30, 2016 © Yoko Ono, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

Another soothing installation in the triptych, Line Piece, takes a similarly cosmic viewpoint. Here, a typed note affixed to the corner of a low table instructs visitors to extend a line drawn in a notebook to the “farthest place in our planet.” In the same room, visitors hang pieces of string in the gallery space using hammers and nails, creating a messy web that underlines the theme of unity. Floor cushions, strewn throughout the gallery, encourage rest and contemplation.

Yoko Ono’s hands-on art installations mirror the “tactility and humanness of clay and ceramics,” notes chief curator Meredith Chilton. Stone Piece, in particular, allows participants to hold smooth river stones inscribed with words such as “dream” and “remember.” Clasping the stones, our “fear and anger” exist our bodies.

Yoko Ono Gardiner Museum The Riverbed Mend Piece
Yoko Ono, Stone Piece (Galerie Lelong, New York 2015/2016), 2015, River rocks, Dimensions variable; Installation view: THE RIVERBED, Galerie Lelong, New York, December 11, 2015 – January 30, 2016 © Yoko Ono, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York

As Ono’s conceptual river washes over us, we learn to be a little more Zen.

Read about more events, exhibitions and happenings around the city here.


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