The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous 1969 Bed-in in Montreal with an exhibition designed to renew their still-topical peace message.
A supremely committed artist, Yoko Ono is not simply content to deal with the past, to speak about what happened and to contextualize the Bed-in, but continues her actions to spread the same message about peace. Today, at seventy-five, Yoko Ono is still active within the contemporary art world with which she has been associated for close to fifty years. The latest retrospective of her work, Between the Sky and My Head, was recently presented in Germany and is currently on show in England. In 2004 she mounted a controversial exhibition of photographs depicting parts of women’s bodies.
A “conscientious objector” during a period of societal and political crisis throughout the world, John Lennon, along with his muse and alter ego Yoko Ono, sang a message of hope and tolerance that sought the transformation of violence into peace, and hate and racism into love. The exhibition invites you to explore all the facets of the musical, artistic and political collaboration whose works so closely reflected the spirit of their time, yet still speak to us today. Although Ms. Ono’s loan of these exceptional works has allowed this look at a chapter of history to be put together, the exhibition is not intended to consign the message of peace to the past. Indeed, this avant-garde artist of Japanese origin associated with the Fluxus and conceptual art movements has never ceased to promote peace in her works, from those in the 1966 Indica Gallery exhibition where she first met John Lennon to those of today, shown around the world.
After their wedding at the British Consulate in Gibraltar on March 20, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono flew to Amsterdam to devote their honeymoon to the first Bed-in for peace at that city’s Hilton Hotel (March 25-31). Their second Bed-in, which couldn’t be held in the United States since Lennon was denied entry, was staged in Montreal, in Suite 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel (May 26-June 2). Knowing that their honeymoon would be a magnet for paparazzi, the couple decided to turn it into a public event to advance the cause of peace. The normally private, personal bed became a public stage, a podium, a forum where, dressed in pyjamas, they explained their perspective on the Vietnam War to the world’s press.
On December 15, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono launched an international advertising campaign for peace in twelve of the world’s major cities: Athens, Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago), Rome, Tokyo, Toronto and, once again, Montreal. Huge billboards in each national language went up at strategic locations, proclaiming “WAR IS OVER! If you want it. Happy Christmas from John and Yoko.” The format varied with the available space, ranging from immense billboards in New York’s Times Square to posters and handout flyers, all bearing the same message. The campaign kicked off with the “Peace for Christmas” benefit concert for UNICEF at London’s Lyceum Theatre on that same December 15. For the occasion, the Plastic Ono Band was joined by George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann and Keith Moon of the Who. The next day, John and Yoko took the peace campaign to Toronto, and met with Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. On December 21, an ad with their “War is over” message appeared in the New York Times.
IMAGINE will retrace the story of these two major figures, from their meeting in 1966 to their first creations promoting peace, which culminated in the May 1969 Bed-in. The exhibition will examine the legacy of such anthemic songs as 1971’s “Imagine” and “Power to the People,” or such albums as 1972’s Some Time in New York City. A musical soundscape will be the backdrop to this look at the ballad of John and Yoko, while rare documents—drawings, unpublished photographs, videos, films, artworks and interactive materials—will convey the couple’s message of universal peace.
Admission to the exhibition will be free in order to enable the widest possible public to understand, be moved by and perpetuate this message today.
From April 2 to June 21, 2009