Sunday, March 19, 2023

Yoko Ono | Glass Keys to Open the Skies

Yoko Ono's interest in clouds and skies are well documented, from the postcard work A Hole To See the Sky Through, to the 1970 film Apotheosis, to the 1985 Starpeace song "Sky People". Many of her instructional works, from Grapefruit and elsewhere, involved the sky: Sky Event For John Lennon, Sky Event II, Painting to See the Skies, scripts for films 10 and 11, etc., etc. Some of her earliest object works include Sky Machine and A Shovel to Dig a Hole for the Clouds to Drop In

Glass Keys To Open The Skies is a work from 1966/67 featuring a set of four glass keys in a hinged plexiglass box. The work proposes a solution to unlocking something that is already open, but forever out of reach. 

Later versions and variations include a single key with a handwritten tag attached with twine, a plexiglass box version with eight keys instead of four, keys in hand knitted cases gifted to each of the Beatles, a single glass key included in the deluxe Everson catalogue box, a brass version of the above, a blue version in 2016, A Key To Open a Faded Memory, and A Key to Open the Universe. 

The first image above is a picture that Ono posted to Twitter in July of 2020, and it looks like a residential setting. The view from the window indicates it is not the Dakota - the Upper West Side apartment Ono first moved into fifty years ago - so it might be the rural upstate New York farm to which she has recently relocated. The 600-acre property was purchased in 1978 when Lennon had retired from music for five years and Ono was running their business. During the pandemic the artist - who turned 90 last month - reportedly left New York City behind for good, to live in the Catskills. 

"In the third room of Yoko Ono’s retrospective exhibition at the Japan Society in New York was a small Plexiglas case containing four glass keys. The piece, dated 1966, is titled Glass Keys to Open the Skies. Rhetorically, the work represents several impossibilities at once: that an elemental openness like the sky could be further opened, that a mechanism for doing this might exist, and that a glass key could instrumentalize crossing such a threshold. For Ono, the range of questions this concept triggers is what makes the keys a work of art. What she is reaching for is mystery, not absurdity. Her pieces require a viewer’s belief that the intangible about which she speaks is more than a personal imaginative act. She wants to offer a fresh source of creative possibilities that feel poetically transpersonal; her art is not just about herself but also about her vision of a collective universe. Despite the passage of almost 40 years, Ono’s work still seems radical, beautiful and not easy to characterize. Transmodern? Only a new word may fit what she was and is trying to do.

In contrast to so much contemporary art, the glass keys carry no irony and no self-conscious criticality. According to Ono herself, writing in 1988, they are reminiscent of the times in which they were made. “The air definitely had a special glimmer then. We were breathless from the pride and joy of being alive. I remember. . . carrying a glass key to open the sky.” As plainly as these words embody an imaginative grandiosity that was a common element in ’60s counterculture, they also reflect Ono’s basic verbal theatricality. Behind this lies a broader cultural platform on which the piece stands: her traditions, both Eastern and Western. Ono’s conceptual and performative gestures are hybrids, as dependent on Beat strategies and Japanese esthetics as they are self-consciously futuristic."
- J.W. Mahoney 

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