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Yoko’s Joke: Signs of the Times for the Metropolitan Museum’s Impending Reopening

Either Max Hollein and Daniel Weiss, the director and president of the Metropolitan Museum, were knowing participants in Yoko Ono‘s mischievous potshot at their august institution, or they fell for her prank.

Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the only explanation I can come up with for Max’s and Dan’s absurdly effusive praise for the conceptual/performance artist’s “bold and inspiring work” (as described in the Met’s press release) for the museum’s grand façade:

“DREAM TOGETHER,” 2020, Yoko Ono
Photo: Metropolitan Museum

The stark aspect of these prosaic signs, with their austere fonts, undermines their purported “powerful message of hope and unity to the world” (in the words of the press release). To me (and to Yoko?), the banners visually send a message that negates their words—conveying not dreams and togetherness but grimness and unbridgeable division. Speaking of “division”—the two parts of Yoko’s piece are split between the front page and the jump page of Robin Pogrebin‘s preview of the Met’s Aug. 29 reopening for the “Arts” section today’s NY Times.

In its dreariness, Ono’s piece probably captures the current zeitgeist better than the alluring evocations of artworks on banners that have previously bedecked the Met. Maybe I’ve lost my eye for art after months of disuse, but I just don’t see the “moving and uplifting work [that] sends a signal of resilience and unity to all” (in Hollein’s high-flown words) or the “sense of shared optimism for the strength of the human spirit and the power of art to bring comfort, inspire resilience, and help us understand our turbulent times” (Weiss’ purple verbiage).

What’s more, the new banners dwarf and upstage the far more rewarding artworks that the Met had temporarily installed (to November) in the formerly empty niches of its façade—sculptures commissioned from Wangechi Mutu, two of which have now been acquired by the Met, including this:

Wangechi Mutu, “The Seated III,” 2019, one of four works by the female Kenyan artist commissioned by the Met
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Here’s a typically utopian Yoko comment for the Met’s press release about her installation:

When we dream together, we create a new reality. The world is suffering terribly, but we are together, even if it can be hard to see at times, and our only way through this crisis will be together. Each one of us has the power to change the world. Remember love. DREAM TOGETHER.

If only it were that simple…

Typographically (and subversively), the new signs resonate with John and Yoko‘s famous declaration:

As I know from Ono’s own remarks during the press preview five years ago for the Museum of Modern Art’s survey of her works from 1960-71 (why stop there?), she has long rued her lack of recognition from major museums.

Yoko Ono at MoMA’s 2015 press preview
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Admiring Ono for her droll wit, absurdist sensibility and transgression of conventions, I think she knew exactly what she was doing here—irreverently giving the Met the back of her hand for having so long ignored her, and making its current officials (who, in fairness, had nothing to do with the Met’s prior disregard) seem foolish—fawning over a trifle that she knocked off in a moment of instant karma.

Below is the front of her hand pressing against one of the garments she designed (with John Lennon‘s body in mind), which were given to the Met by Harold Koda, the Met’s former curator in charge of the Costume Institute:

Garments designed by Yoko Ono, donated by Harold Koda & Alan Kornberg
Screenshot from the Met’s collection website

These and one other Ono work—a print (not illustrated online)—are her only works on the Met’s collection website.

I just hope that the feeling of letdown engendered by the Met’s ballyhooed but bland banners doesn’t foretell how we’ll feel once we’re back inside. Reading unexpressively from prepared scripts, Max and Dan tried to generate some media excitement for the reopening during this morning’s half-hour “Virtual Press Event,” which gave us a quick tour of Making the Met and Mexican artist Héctor Zamora‘s politically provocative Lattice Detour (think “border wall”), commissioned for the Roof Garden:

Screenshots of Héctor Zamora‘s “Latice Detour” from today’s Met Virtual Press Event

In a lively, extemporaneous interview last week with Pauline Willis, director of the American Federation of Arts, Weiss candidly sought to lower visitor expectations during these difficult times:

We will have a more limited exhibition program than usual. There will be fewer special exhibitions. We’re focusing on our permanent collection, which is utterly extraordinary and worthy of a visit. But we’re not going to have as many exhibitions and programs going on, because those are not what we’re going to be able to do [my links, not AFA’s].

Let’s face it: 2020 is not likely to go down as a banner year.

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