Double Fantasy – John and Yoko

Last Saturday evening we watched John And Yoko: Above Us Only Sky a documentary film on Channel 4 which tells “the untold story” of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. The film also “explores how the art, politics and music of the pair are intrinsically entwined.”

I was particularly interested to watch the documentary as only a few days before we’d visited an exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool – Double Fantasy – John & Yoko – which covered much of the same ground. 

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The multi-media exhibition covers John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s relationship from when they  first met in November 1966 at an exhibition of Yoko’s work at a London gallery right up to John’s death in December 1980. Like the film, it tells their story in their own words, but also includes personal objects alongside art, music and film produced by both John and Yoko drawn from Yoko’s own private collection, and which

explores the personal and creative chemistry of this iconic couple and their ongoing Imagine Peace campaign (exhibition website)

In many ways John and Yoko were an unlikely couple. John a famous popular music star from a lower middle background from a working class city in the north of England, and Yoko a Japanese avant-garde artist from an upper class background. But they clicked with John, perhaps, seeing in Yoko what he really wanted to be (a cosmopolitan avant-garde artist, not an upper class Japanese woman!). The exhibition shows how they influenced each other’s work, with Yoko perhaps having a bigger influence on John than John on Yoko.

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For many Beatles fans, Yoko was not popular, to say the least. Many of them blamed her for the breakup of the band. John took her with him to recording sessions and she, allegedly, offered her own musical suggestions and tried to join in on some of the songs. This certainly didn’t go down that well with other members of the band and probably widened rifts that were already starting to open.

My own view is that Yoko’s input probably accelerated what would have happened in any case rather than being the primary cause. It’s rare for a creative partnership to last forever and the Beatles were already starting to drift apart as they developed their own interests. Yoko was, for many, an easy scapegoat, and some of the antagonism was no doubt because she was Japanese. There was an underlying racism and the memories of WW2, which only ended just over 20 years before, meant that many people had a dislike of the Japanese.  Attitudes have mellowed over the years, but probably hasn’t completely gone away.

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The exhibition was chronological, taking in all the key events of their relationship from their first meeting at Yoko’s exhibition illustrating them with artefacts, works of art and song lyrics, a rolling programme of films and music videos and a music room, overlooking the Mersey, with tracks from albums playing and featuring album cover art. 

Exhibits included costumes they wore at their wedding

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Art works by Yoko and reproductions of drawings by John

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handwritten drafts of song lyrics

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Their politics were really rather naive, but well intended and their Bed-Ins for Peace protests in Amsterdam, not surprisingly, featured prominently in the exhibition

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The story of the music that John created after he left the Beatles, in most cases working with Yoko, featured heavily. It was an opportunity to reappraise what John had achieved after he had left the Beatles. Inevitably not everything was a classic (and that’s true of every act, including the Beatles) but there were some songs which were as good as anything he had created during his partnership with Paul McCartney,   –  Mind Games, Jealous Guy, Watching the Wheels, Woman, Happy Xmas (War is over)  and, of course, Imagine

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Marianne Faithfull. “Innocence and Experience” at Tate Liverpool

Over the last few years the Tate have let a number of celebrities loose amongst their collection to select works to put on display at the Gallery on the Albert Dock in Liverpool. Exhibitions have been curated by the designer Wayne Hemingway, the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and the hat designer Philip Treacy. The latest celebrity to have been given the opportunity to choose works to put on display is Marianne Faithfull and the resulting exhibition DLA Piper Series: Innocence and Experience, is being shown at Tate Liverpool until 2 September.

I called in to have a look while I was in Liverpool the other week. There was an interesting, eclectic selection of works on display reflecting Marianne’s influences and experiences. There were photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe including one of a young Marianne taken in the 1960’s, paintings by Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Peter Blake, David Hockney and William Blake (the exhibition takes its name from one of his books of poetry) amongst others and sculptures by Man Ray and René Magritte. . Apparently the works were selected in conjunction with John Dunbar, who was her husband at the time she met Mick Jagger, in the 1960s. To be honest I’d never heard of him but the publicity for the exhibition mentions that he was the founder of the Indica Gallery. According to Wikipedia

Indica Gallery was a counterculture art gallery in Mason’s Yard (off Duke Street), St. James’s, London, England during the late 1960s, in the basement of the Indica Bookshop co-owned by John Dunbar, Peter Asher and Barry Miles. It was supported by Paul McCartney and hosted a show of Yoko Ono‘s work in November 1966 at which Ono first met John Lennon.

Indica folded in just two years, after which Dunbar became an artist and exhibited work alongside Peter Blake and Colin Self.

I wonder to what extent Marianne was involved in curating the exhibition. I suspect John Dunbar was the dominant partner when it came to selecting the works.

Some of the works were quite disturbing. Two were paintings by Marlene Dumas. Lucy, in which the head of a dead woman with a gash across her neck fills the canvas, and  Stern, a very similar work, in this case based on the photograph taken of Ulrike Meinhof, the Red Army Faction, after she had died in her prison cell (she was either murdered or committed suicide depending on who you believe), published in the German magazine of the same name. Another was a photograph by Nan Goldin entitled Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC (1982), The two subjects are clearly drug addicts, the woman in particular

Greer, whose supine body extends through the centre of the frame to the left side, gazes blankly in the direction of the camera. There are dark shadows beneath her eyes; one skinny hand clutches the wrist of the other arm as if to support it; she is lost in contemplation of something not accessible to the viewer. (Source: Tate website)

One work that caught my eye was in the corner of the first room. There were a number of glass tetrahedrons in a random pile inside a perspex box. There was a light source underneath directing  a beam of light through the tetrahedrons which scattered the light rays and creating interesting patterns on the adjacent walls, floor and ceiling. I thought it was very effective

I was surprised when I discovered that it had been created by Yoko Ono; the first of her works that I’d seen.

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Parts of a Lighthouse 1956-6 by Yoko Ono

Also included in the exhibition was a 12-minute film directed by Derek Jarman in 1979 to promote Marianne Faithfull’s album “Broken English”. The subject of the title song is Ulrike Meinhof, who is depicted in Marlene Dumas Stern.