Julia Bryan-Wilson on Yoko Ono's 1960s

In 1971, John Lennon described his wife and creative partner Yoko Ono as the world’s “most famous unknown artist. Everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.”

That was then. Ono is now—in her mid-80s—being seen as the groundbreaking artist that she became against stiff odds across the course of the 1960s. With recent major exhibitions at the Bilbao Guggenheim and New York's Museum of Modern Art, Ono's full legacy—her work as a conceptual artist, a performance artist, a neo-Dada artist upending the institutions of the art world, and a neo-Zen artist bringing mindfulness to the many—is finally coming into clear view.

Here we explore Yoko Ono's involvement in avant-garde circles, her collaborations with John Lennon, and her mind-boggling success on Twitter (5 million followers—more than Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and The Who combined).

Our guest is Julia Bryan-Wilson, Associate Professor of the History of Art at UC-Berkeley and the author of Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era. A frequent contributor to Artforum, she has written about Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” and has an essay, “Yoko Ono: For Posterity,” in the book published alongside MOMA’s current exhibition.

Yoko Ono resources for this episode

"Cut Piece" (excerpt of film of 1965 performance)

"Four" (first version of "Bottoms") (1966) (dir. Yoko Ono)

Rape (dir. John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1969)

Music used in the episode

Blue Dot Sessions, "Jackbird" (license) and "Front Runner" (license)