Montreal Yoko Ono exhibit launches in time for bed-in's 50th anniversary

A new exhibition by and about Yoko Ono brings its historical, political and artistic notes together in one place as it opens this week in Old Montreal.

The Phi Foundation's latest exhibition serves as a documentary of the famous 1969 Montreal bed-in by John Lennon and Ono. 

It also offers participatory works created by Ono and a large, submission-based work focused on stories by other women.

The Ono trifecta is composed of three parts called Growing Freedom, The instructions of Yoko Ono, and The art of John and Yoko.

"It's a show that really wants to underscore all the facets of art-making that Yoko Ono presents to us," said Phi Foundation managing director, and the exhibition's curator, Cheryl Sim.

She said Growing Freedom emphasizes three cornerstones of Ono's practice: action, participation and imagination.

As part of the exhibit, Ono offers instructions to the public and leaves it to them to interact with everyday objects provided in the gallery space — objects like dishes, ladders and nails.

"It's going to be very hands on, very active," Sim said.

Synaesthete/Studio One

This style of work has been part of Ono's story as an artist for the past 60 years as her instruction-based works started around 1955.

It has also featured prominently in the John and Yoko story since — as the legend goes — they first met in a London art gallery when Lennon wanted to contribute to the exhibition by hammering a nail into the wall.

Ono, now 86, married Lennon in 1969 and the couple used their honeymoon to stage two bed-ins for peace, one of which was at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

The bicentennial of Montreal's bed-in is coming up in May and the Phi will also hosting a panel on it.

Sim said this is her first foray into a documentary-style exhibition. She said even after all these years, the relevance of the bed-in endures.

"I think it is a really great way to encapsulate this idea that the world is going so fast and we don't know how to trust anymore," Sim said.

"In a way, this gives us the opportunity to think about what it means to be reactive."

She said the couple set the bar for celebrity couples using their fame for social good.

The panel focusing on the bed-in will take place April 25, bringing together people to discuss their memories of it and inviting the public to share their stories as well.

The final branch of the exhibition's offerings, Arising, is a call-out by Ono to Montreal women specifically, but women around the world as well, to share stories of the abuse they've endured just for being women.

They are invited to submit these stories along with a picture of their eyes and their first name, if they choose.

Sim said submissions have already been coming in online and that the stories will be displayed in the gallery space.

After the show closes in Montreal, it will go to Amsterdam in 2020, and more stories will be added to there.

Entry to the exhibition is free and the Phi Foundation (not to be confused with the nearby Phi Centre) can be found at 451 and 465 Saint-Jean Street. Growing Freedom, The instructions of Yoko Ono, and The art of John and Yoko runs from April 25 to September 15.