Originally published in Yoko Ono: Half-a-Wind Show; A Retrospective. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
“What I did, I had knowledge of what happened before me and I created my own fate based on that.”
—Yoko Ono, 2012
I recently sat down with Yoko Ono and asked her point-blank about her relationship to Asian aesthetics. I had worked with Ono for over twenty years and written about her art from various perspectives, including her role as a mediator of Zen ideas in the downtown art scene of 1960s’ New York. But writing on this assigned topic for the Frankfurt show somehow made us both balk. Art and biography are not a matter of cause and effect; her being born Japanese does not make her art forever “Japanese.” Artists make myriad choices about the world they feel compelled to mirror, examine, or reinvent; artists like Ono, working in the age of cosmopolitanism and globalism, segue among and between past and contemporary cultures from both near and faraway places, and still remain true to themselves. Does ascribing influences matter?
Originally published in East-West Interchanges in American Art: A Long and Tumultuous Relationship. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989 was a large-scale exhibition accompanied by a scholarly book of the same name, a series of live performances, a website, audio guide, and public programs organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and presented there in winter 2009. Many years in the making, it explored a set of ideas around the vast, unruly, and often problematic concept of “Asian influence” on visual art of the United States. Europe has long been recognized as the font of mainstream American art movements, but the show explored an alternative lineage aligned with America’s Pacific aspect. Asia’s “influence” on such influential artists and writers as James McNeill Whistler, John La Farge, Arthur Wesley Dow, Ezra Pound, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, John Cage, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Ad Reinhardt, Agnes Martin, and Adrian Piper has been well-documented and treated in previous studies. The Third Mind (Figures 1–3) made the case that this influence was not occasional or eccentric, but was rather a continuous and complex undercurrent that courses through the development of early modern to post-war to neo-avant-garde art. That the nature of artists’ work with these forces varied widely and that “Asia” meant different things to different artists at different periods should not discourage our critical and historical analyses of this profound lineage of ideas, events, and people, it concluded.
This presentation was delivered in conjunction with a panel CHINA IN ASIA/ASIA IN CHINA: Imagining Asia in Contemporary Chinese Art, organized by Columbia University and Asia Art Archive in America. From the perspective of contemporary visual art practice, this panel interrogate the role of China in Asia and Asia in China from multiple perspectives.
In 1958, Alan Watts, the popular philosopher and interpreter of Zen Buddhism, published an essay on Zen and contemporary American culture titled “Square Zen, Beat Zen, Zen.” Watts’s books The Spirit of Zen and The Way of Zen were cult classics among artists and intellectuals from Greenwich Village to North Beach, and together with his weekly KPFA radio talks in San Francisco, contributed to what he now observed was all the “hullabaloo about Zen” among “Bohemian” artists, the Beat writers, and “snobbish” East Asian academics, each of whom he proceeds to decry for their particular distortions.