Step into Yoko Ono’s immersive world at Tate Modern

‘Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind’ spans the artist and activist's work from the 1950s to the present day

Yoko Ono artwork
Yoko Ono with Half-A-Room, 1967, from ‘HALF-A-WIND SHOW’, Lisson Gallery, London, 1967
(Image credit: © Yoko Ono. Photography © Clay Perry)

‘Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind’ at Tate Modern is an exhibition that wants you to get involved, fittingly for an artist and activist who has long considered participation to be integral to her art. It’s the thread that runs throughout the show, her largest UK retrospective, tracing her multidisciplinary work from the 1950s to date in an immersive experience that’s faithful to the instructive core at the heart of Ono’s work.

Yoko Ono artwork, woman doing up bra

Yoko Ono, Freedom 1970. Courtesy the artist

(Image credit: © Yoko Ono)

A chronological narrative takes us from Ono’s childhood in Tokyo, Japan, to her evacuation to the countryside during the Second World War and subsequent move to New York, where she conceived her first works. The instructive elements in her art are clear early on, in pieces that encouraged viewers to light a match. The idea is explored in three parts here – in the instruction itself, the performance, and the film. 

Yoko Ono at Tate Modern

Yoko Ono artwork, fly on person's mouth

Yoko Ono, FLY, 1970-71. Courtesy the artist

(Image credit: © Yoko Ono)

This sets the pattern for the rest of the exhibition. Through her art, Ono instructs us – play chess with all-white pieces until you can’t remember where your pieces are, remove your shoes and carry out activities inside a black bag, hammer a nail, add colour to a white boat in a reflection of displacement, write a message to your mother – and as visitors to the exhibition, we can faithfully obey.

Installation of boat and graffiti

Yoko Ono, Add Colour (Refugee Boat), 2016, at MAXXI Foundation. Photo © Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

(Image credit: © Yoko Ono)

The exhibition lingers on Ono’s five-year stay in London, from 1966, as a turning point in the radical nature of her work, tracing the connections she made with artists, writers and musicians, including husband and collaborator John Lennon. A multimedia approach invites us in, from 1969 film Bed Peace, showing the couple’s second ‘bed-in’ event, and the resulting media scourge that ensued. 

Apple on clear plinth

Yoko Ono, Apple, 1966, from ‘Yoko Ono: One Woman Show’, 1960-1971, MoMA, NYC, 2015. Photo © Thomas Griesel

(Image credit: © Yoko Ono)

The exhibition takes its name from Ono’s concerts and events in London and Liverpool in 1966 and 1967, where ‘silent’ music reigned, present only in listeners’ minds. Here, music is everywhere, including anthems Sisters O Sisters (1972), Woman Power (1973) and Rising (1995), supporting Ono’s work for violence against women in a multisensory mash-up.

‘Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind’ at Tate Modern, London, 15 Feb – 1 September 2024

Yoko Ono with hammer

Yoko Ono with Glass Hammer, 1967 fromHALF-A-WIND SHOW’, Lisson Gallery, London, 1967. Photo © Clay Perry

(Image credit: © Yoko Ono)

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.