Sunday, March 19, 2023

Yoko Ono | A Key To Open A Faded Memory

Yoko Ono
A Key To Open A Faded Memory
New York City, USA: Self-published, 1992
19 x 19 x 7 cm.
Edition of 40 signed and numbered copies

A glass key housed in a handmade cardboard box on a heart-shaped synthetic sponge. The title is handwritten on the cover, of a work that appears to have been gifted to friends. 

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 

Yoko Ono | Blood Objects from Family Album

Yoko Ono
Blood Objects from Family Album
New York City, USA: UBU Gallery, 1995
17.5 x 10.2 cm.
Edition size unknown

A year after the founding of Ubu Gallery in 1994, Yoko Ono presented a solo exhibition there, comprising of two bodies of work. Works from the Franklin Summer 'automatic' pointillist drawings series sat alongside Family Album objects (bronzed versions of everyday items such as a splintered bat, a mirror, a high-heeled shoe, all splattered with blood red pigment). The latter recalled the image of her husband John Lennon's iconic glasses covered in his own blood after being shot in front of Ono outside their home in 1980, which adorned the cover of her first album after his murder. 

To promote the show is this brilliant bit of ephemera, which I think bests the works in the show. A house key is just as good a signifier of domesticity as a mirror or shoe, and all the better that it arrives for free in the mail, serving as the exhibition announcement. 

The true brilliance is the lack of expense: I suspect most households have a drawer full of keys that are no longer in use but that the owners are reluctant to discard. It reminds me of when Laurie Anderson performed on SNL in 1986 - she handed out expired batteries and house keys to the audience as a keepsake. 

Ono has also frequently made use of the key as an object to open the sky, or open the universe (see next post). 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Levin Hegel | Keys to My Apartment


Levin Hegel
Keys to My Apartment
Toronto, Canada: Self-published, 2003-2008
House keys on keychain
Edition of 5 [+1 AP] signed and numbered copies

Published in an edition of five, with the proviso that every time the artist moves into another home, the edition will be update and remade. 

Vienna Pighin | Single Use Functioning House Key

Vienna Pighin
Single Use Functioning House Key
Toronto, Canada: ESA, 2017
5 x 2 cm.
Edition size unknown

This multiple - made when the artist was attending Etobicoke School of the Arts, a celebrated arts high school in the Toronto suburbs - consists of a resin cast replica of her own personal house-key, in the home where she lives with her parents and siblings. 

The accompanying key chain identifies the title, which suggests both a warm, welcoming gesture, and perhaps a bit of a sinister trap (particularly knowing her other work, which ranges from an oversized slap stick to temporary knuckledusters, all dealing with themes of violence). 

The title supports the latter reading, with perhaps the suggestion that the key itself could sustain more than one use, but that the user wouldn't have the opportunity. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

Paul Ramírez Jonas | Key to the City

Using the same subject matter as Jon Sasaki (see the post previous to last), Ithaca-based artist Paul Ramírez Jonas’s Key to the City is an elaborate work first made with Creative Time curator Nato Thompson and currently on it's fifth iteration. 

In the summer of 2010, Ramírez Jonas worked with the city of New York to replace 24 city locks so that they could all be opened with a single key. The artist then bestowed these "keys to the city" (a civic ornamental honour typically reserved for visiting celebrities and dignitaries) to everyday citizens. 

The participants, which numbered in the thousands, were encouraged to use their 'master' keys to access sites spread across the five boroughs, ranging from community gardens and cemeteries to restaurants, police stations and museums. The work becomes a portrait of the city, while also exploring notions of the trust, access and belonging. 

Jon Sasaki | 1:1 replica of a key to Mercer Union

Jon Sasaki
1:1 replica of a key to Mercer Union
Toronto, Canada: Mercer Union, 2015 
8.5 x 5.4 cm.
Edition size unknown

About a decade ago Mercer Union began producing multiples as part of their membership drive. I think we have projects by Jenine Marsh, Sandy Plotnikoff, and Oliver Husain, and there may be others. 

Jon Sasaki's edition addresses the context directly, providing a membership card of brushed stainless steel. From the card, members can pop out a replica of the gallery key and ostensibly gain access to the space any time of day or night. 

A related work by the artist is Gallery Key Hidden Outside the Gallery (
2012, ongoing), in which gallery keys are placed in "Hide-A-Key" rocks and concealed as effectively as the setting will permit. Installation views from the Art Gallery of Mississauga and the former Jessica Bradley Gallery, Toronto are below.