For my 5th birthday, I was presented with a 7” vinyl record of Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles. A strange amazing black disc containing music that I could keep playing, I wore it out. Sad to say that by the time I reached 12, the Beatles were totally uncool, and who was this Yoko Ono woman anyway, was she the reason they split? Of course, now I find myself in awe of Ono the artist, for me a creative with far greater endurance than the musical association.
It’s taken me a while to get across country to see this show in Liverpool, firstly because it’s so far away from my base in Norfolk but also, as a native Mancunian, Liverpool has always been a cultural and sporting diametric. Having been hoodwinked out of quite a few dollars recently by having visited some expensive but ultimately very disappointing blockbuster art shows, I am sorry to say that my natural scepticism preceded my expectations of Double Fantasy: “Go ahead, impress me”. But at least it was a free show if not quite a ‘last chance to see’. Actually, in this case I hold up my hands, I was so wrong. This show comprises not of media hype for the tourist, but actually contains some real gems that offer an intimate insight into how Ono and Lennon mobilised their relationship and fame to try to change the world. A doomed project one might naturally assume, but in reality, their activism, campaigning, love-ins and films resonate even now.
Ono Lennon spoke openly about the show recently: "I am so happy and grateful that we are having our Double Fantasy - John & Yoko show in Liverpool. This is where John was born, and I know John would be very happy too. We were a very simple couple just loving each other every day and I just wanted to show the simple truth of us. In our personal life, we were pretty simple people, and we made all sorts of things with love for each other. Everything was made out of love. We found that we were both very strongly interested in world peace. I feel John and I are still working together. I always feel his warmth next to me."
The show is essentially a chronology of Ono and Lennon as individuals whose paths eventually coincide from their respective careers. From the intimate to the iconic, the exhibition brings together some rare and unmissable objects and artworks. The film programme is worth sitting through and is a refreshing change from the milieu of try-hard, 2-hour video installations that I seem to encounter almost weekly. A music room, overlooking the Mersey reverberates with melancholy as the couple's albums play out for visitors, the gallery itself featuring some extraordinarily good (and not so good) album cover art. Lennon’s hand-written lyrics lend some warmth and humanity to this show whilst a copy of Ono’s scarce book Grapefruit, given to Lennon as a gift in ’66 remind us what an important and seminal artist she has been – and of course, still is.
Other important works are represented in this show, which is superbly curated and presented; expression I have rarely used of late I must say. Original artworks by Ono and Lennon are included in the show, Ono’s Ceiling Painting/Yes Painting, Painting to Hammer A Nail and Apple, as well as The Daily Howl make welcome appearances, as does a touching, hand-made book by Lennon from his childhood along with examples of his quirky line drawings.
The exhibition also features conceptual work the couple co-produced: War is Over, Plastic Ono Band, and elements of their first collaboration Acorn Peace are important elements within the show. Some of the other stuff left me a bit cold as it smacked of nostalgia more that curatorial insight: Lennon’s iconic wire-rimmed glasses, Ono’s photogenic Porsche sunglasses along with a car-boot sale worth of old clothing are all here as context and spectacle - apologies for the pun. A recreation of the Imagine mosaic circle in Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New York. An intimate and contemplative space, it will also reflect on the global repercussions of Lennon’s death.
Sharon Granville, Director of the Exhibition for National Museums Liverpool said: “We have worked closely with Yoko and her team for several years to tell an intimate story of the couple’s relationship and work, using her and John’s words wherever it was possible. Setting this against a backdrop of the volatile late 1960s – Vietnam War, civil rights protests and social unrest and revolution across Europe and the USA - reveals just how creatively and bravely the couple harnessed their fame and influence to express their radical ideas, challenge preconceptions of the role of artists in society and promote universal themes of peace, love and equality, which continue to have strong resonance and importance today”.
In short, a show well worth the air miles.