View of “Yoko Ono,” 2011. Center: The Doors, 2011. Walls: Negai (Wish), 2011.

View of “Yoko Ono,” 2011. Center: The Doors, 2011. Walls: Negai (Wish), 2011.

Yoko Ono

View of “Yoko Ono,” 2011. Center: The Doors, 2011. Walls: Negai (Wish), 2011.

This exhibition, held in celebration of Yoko Ono’s winning the Hiroshima Art Prize (an award dedicated to artists who have contributed to the preservation of “the spirit of Hiroshima”), demonstrated the strength of Ono’s art and the ways it is sustained by its confrontation with the absurdities of life and by the artist’s knack for firing the spectator’s imagination while using simple, everyday objects. She teaches us to turn physical perceptions into philosophical interpretations.

Maintaining Ono’s clean, poetically allusive, open-ended visual vocabulary, the show responded both to the special historical significance of Hiroshima as the first target of the atomic bomb and to the more recent disaster of the Tohoku earthquake from this past March. Twelve of the thirteen large installations inside and outside the museum building were created in 2011. Many displayed Ono’s metonymic method of showing only fragments of objects or a situation so that the spectator’s associations conjure a larger situation, frequently eliciting contrary interpretations of the same phenomenon. The Doors (all works cited, 2011), an installation of weathered white wooden doors filling two galleries, simultaneously suggested destruction and hope: In their detachment from any walls, they evoked demolition, but their placement and the space between them suggested the opening of a new path leading somewhere beyond the present ruins. This optimism was also evident in the title of Saiken—Mata Tatereba Iinda, Iinda (Reconstruction: Everything Is Going to Be Fine, You Can Rebuild), an installation of a fallen pillar and broken objects transported from a house destroyed in the Tohoku quake; set in the open air, outside the museum’s glass wall, it showed human effort as part of the natural cycle of destruction and re-creation, conveying a new sense of beginning. The video projection Hondohri, showing the thronging human traffic in Hiroshima City’s shopping arcade, underlined the theme of the human ability to recover from the ravages of war or natural disaster.

Yet the overall mood of the exhibition was somber. An underground installation embodying the never-ending cycle of destruction and mourning through the juxtaposition of two works, Invisible People and Kage (Shadows), featured transparent acrylic sculptures of faceless yet humanized standing figures, adults and children, lit up for several seconds by the flash of a strobe light, casting shadows both on the floor and particularly on two paintings: one showing the wall of a building destroyed by the atomic bomb and the other showing the city in ruins, where, thanks to the frequency of the stroboscopic flashing, the shadows hovered as if printed there forever.

Messages consisted of banners carrying phrases such as WAR IS OVER on the stone wall outside the museum building, visible through binoculars that were trained on them from inside the museum. But the setup evoked a shooting range or even a firing squad, as if the spectators were meant to take aim with their eyes and the slogans were the victims to be executed. The uncompromising evocation of cruelty and the ambiguous connotations of the weathered posters with soiled letters powerfully communicated Ono’s thought that the world has not improved since she and John Lennon first put out the message that WAR IS OVER in 1969, but that we still have to sustain hope.

Midori Matsui