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Yoko Ono at Tate Modern reviews: what the critics say

The Yoko One exhibition at Tate Modern in 2024 is officially a 'big deal'.

Not only is it a huge career-spanning retrospective, it is the UK’s largest ever exhibition devoted to the ground-breaking and influential artist and activist.

Visitors get to experience a ton of art, with a mammoth 200-plus works on show, including instruction pieces and scores, installations, films, music and photography. Many pieces even offer visitor interaction, from chess playing to getting into black sacks (yes really).

With seven decades of a career to cover, it is shaping up to be the hot-ticket art exhibition of the spring.

But, is it any good?

Well, broadly yes say the art critics in their reviews.

Ben Luke in the Evening Standard says that the retrospective is "well-overdue."

People play chess across tables displayed in a gallery, with a photograph proclaiming war is over in the background
Yoko Ono, White Chess Set, 1966, installed in YOKO ONO: MUSIC OF THE MIND. Photo © Tate (Reece Straw)

In his four-star review Luke says that "much of this show is like a conversation with us, an invitation to collaborate." He praises that the exhibition mainly focuses on the first two pioneering decades of Ono’s career, where she had "an extraordinary knack for deceptively simple ideas and images."

Overall, Luke thinks the show offers an "argument for Ono’s place as a major figure in conceptual and performance art."

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This is a sentiment also offered by Mark Hudson in the Independent. His matching four-star review says that while most Tate Modern visitors will "still be unclear as to whether Ono is a genuinely significant artist or a pretentious charlatan" this "thought-provoking show goes a lot further towards answering these questions."

Hudson praises many works, including the "great film" Cut Piece (1964) which he says is one of Ono’s best-known early works, and Bag Piece (1964), where visitors are allowed to climb inside black cotton sacks.

Ultimately, Hudson says that "this exhibition shows it’s time to accept [Ono] not only as an extraordinary human being, but a very significant artist."

Laura Freeman in the Times admits she us one of the sceptics who has been won over by the London exhibition.

"I went expecting oddity and wilful obscurity, I left charmed, amused and (mostly) won over" she remarks her in her also four-star review.

She praises the show's "elegance" and says that visitors need to arrive willing to embrace the absurdity of what's on show, and that they should channel Ono's famous husband. "Lennon got the joke and joined in." Visitors should too Freeman says.

The Guardian's art critic thinks people will do just that. "Crowd-pleasing" is Adrian Searle's verdict of the Ono exhibition, mainly because the opportunity to interact with many artworks — and therefore with Ono herself — will be the biggest draw for people.

"Wanting to be more than mute spectators, audiences now want to do more than pay respect to history, to the blue chip and the elevated...From the start, this was something Ono acknowledged and encouraged" he writes.

Five people use pens to draw on a fully white coloured boat displayed in a gallery
Yoko Ono, Add Colour (Refugee Boat) , concept 1960, installed in YOKO ONO: MUSIC OF THE MIND. Photo © Tate (Lucy Green)

But Searle isn't wholly convinced by the merits of Ono's output. Her "later work is weak" he says and that it's reasonable to say her pieces are "a bit hokey and obvious." Despite this however, he admits it "somehow...still touched me."

Eddy Frankel in Time Out can relate to this. For while he acknowledges that "some of it [is] impossibly silly" and "lots of it unbearably crap," the show is saved because of Ono's good intentions and honest convictions.

"Ono means it, she believes peace is possible, and wants you to believe it too. You can’t be mad at someone who just wants to make a better world, even if it’s just an idea." he concludes.


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