In 2003, when Yoko Ono turned 70, she celebrated her birthday in much the same way the rest of us do. She put on her best outfit (a little black dress, of course), ordered a cake (chocolate), and invited a few friends to come to her party. And, to make it more fun, she hauled out some family photos to remember the old days and tacked them on the wall.
Sounds normal enough, right ? Hardly. The words “Yoko” and “normal” have never appeared in the same sentence before, until now. Yoko, after all, rose to fame first as an avant garde performance artist before she met and wed Beatle John Lennon. True to her fashion, Yoko staged her February 2003 birthday party to be an attention-getting bash. She invited 200 guests to one of New York’s poshest restaurants, Mr. Chow. The partygoers were an eclectic lot, including creative types like rockers (Lou Reed, Fred Schneider of the B-52s) and writers (Susan Sontag) as well as recording executives and media moguls. As for the decor:
The room was dominated by a blown-up picture of Ono and John Lennon with their words, “War Is Over If You Want It.” Another wall showed Ono’s “Film No. 4, Autumn,” which features 300 bare butts walking. A portion of the floor was covered with white canvas to create a “painting to be stepped on” of footprints. In another part of the party, Ono’s Bagism, a fabric bag big enough to enclose two people, was available for cavorting guests. Guests received goodie bags that contained Ono’s book “Grapefruit” and her “Box of Smile,” a mirror encased in a box.
Yoko has been in the jaw-dropping business since 1964 when she first performed “Cut Piece” at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo. At the time she was struggling for recognition as a concept artist. “Cut Piece” was her most provocative piece of that period.
In these first performances [of 'Cut Piece'] by Ono, the artist sat kneeling on the concert hall stage, wearing her best suit of clothing, with a pair of scissors placed on the floor in front of her. Members of the audience were invited to approach the stage, one at a time, and cut a bit of her clothes off—which they were allowed to keep.” Yoko left the stage completely nude.
Click to see a film of Yoko’s 1965 Tokyo performance of “Cut Piece.” [The music by Yoko Ono was added later.]
“The Japanese audiences’ volative reaction convinced Yoko that she could not stay in Japan if she expected to attract serious attention.” So she took the show on the road – to New York then London for the fateful meeting with Lennon at the Indica Gallery. (1)
Seven months after Yoko held her birthday bash, she decided to reprise “Cut Piece” for a Paris audience, saying that she was doing it for world peace. “Come and cut a piece of my clothing wherever you like the size of less than a postcard,” she offered, “and send it to the one you love.”
Wearing a layered black silk chiffon skirt (Chanel?) and a black blouse (Gucci?), Yoko sat in a chair onstage as audience members, including son Sean Lennon, came forward and snipped off pieces of her clothing. One woman cut a piece of her own jacket and gave it to Yoko.
“There were a few tense moments. One woman hacked rather brutally with the shears….Early on, one woman cut Yoko’s shoe…but Yoko was obviously not pleased and asked her not to do the shoe, but the damage was already done.”
Stripped down to her matching black bra, panties, and shoes, the show ended and Yoko was escorted off stage in a red kimono.
(1) Spitz, Bob. The Beatles: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.