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  • Lost in the ArchiveYoko Ono and John Lennon's Four Thoughts
  • Kevin Concannon (bio)

In late May and early June of 1968, the work of Yoko Ono was to be presented at the Arts Lab Gallery in London. Listings in the British underground newspaper of record, International Times (hereafter IT), promise an exhibition titled Yoko Ono Water Show "for one week," from May 28 through June 1.1 The next issue of IT, however, while still listing Water Show as continuing through June 1, lists a new exhibition, John Lennon and Yoko Ono: Four Thoughts, opening at Arts Lab on June 2 and continuing through June 9. Although this latter exhibition marks, as I propose, Ono and Lennon's first truly collaborative exhibition, little mention of it appears in the voluminous documentation of all things Beatles—or in the literature on Ono, for that matter. Its scant representation in the literature no doubt arises from the dearth of documentation of the exhibition itself, which is somewhat surprising given the amount of attention Lennon generally received from the press as a member of The Beatles, the world's most famous pop group at the time, not to mention Ono's growing reputation as an avant-garde artist. Ono caused quite a sensation with her performances of Cut Piece at the Destruction in Art Symposium in 1966, her solo exhibitions at Indica Gallery (1966) and Lisson Gallery (1967), and her controversial Film No. 4 (Bottoms) (1967), the feature-length version of which attracted vast press attention surrounding its production and London premiere.

There remains much confusion about what constitutes the first collaboration between the two artists. My argument therefore, which I detail in this paper, is the following: even though some maintain that the couple's first collaborative exhibition was Ono's Half-A-Wind show held at London's Lisson Gallery the previous year, in 1967, Four Thoughts marks Ono and Lennon's first truly collaborative exhibit (one they both publicly and mutually agreed from the outset as a joint project). In the Half-A-Wind exhibition, which Lennon sponsored, Lennon suggested to Ono that she sell the other (invisible) halves of her half sculptures in bottles (fig. 17.1). She did just that and [End Page 261]

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Yoko Ono with John Lennon's Air Bottles, 1967. Photo by Clay Perry. © Yoko Ono.

provided the exhibition with another title, Yoko Plus Me, referring obliquely to Lennon. In Lennon Remembers (2000), Lennon recalls: "That was our first public appearance. I didn't even go to see the show, I was too uptight."2 Half-A-Wind was billed as a solo show, and Lennon's participation, beyond his co-author credit for Air Bottles in the exhibition brochure, remained largely anonymous at the time. The literature on Ono and Lennon typically cites even yet another contender for the designation of their first joint exhibition, John by Yoko, Yoko by John held at the Coventry Cathedral on June 15, 1968, in which the couple famously created Acorn Piece, a conceptual sculpture in which acorns were planted facing east and west (fig. 17.2). The online Beatles Bible, for example, continues to make this claim, characterizing it as "their first public event."3 Since the Four Thoughts exhibition has been largely lost to history, it is only natural that the well-publicized conceptual event at Coventry has enjoyed this historical priority, even though it actually followed Four Thoughts chronologically. In this essay, I share my archival and other research findings to reconstruct the events surrounding Ono and Lennon's Four Thoughts, which I argue, constitutes a defining moment in the direction of Ono and Lennon's path of peace as the political tumult of May 1968—the very moment their relationship as a couple was sealed—forced a choice between violent revolution and non-violent resistance. [End Page 262]

The Arts Lab Exhibition in the Press

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John & Yoko, Acorn Event, 1968. On June 15, 1968, Ono and Lennon planted acorns facing east and west as a conceptual sculpture for the National Sculpture Exhibition at Coventry...


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pp. 261-274
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