NEW YORK - On 4 July 1964 in Tokyo, Yoko Ono self-published her masterpiece, Grapefruit, in a limited edition. For at least a decade she had been creating event scores: instructions for performance pieces in the genres of poetry, painting, music, event and object making (or object alteration or object destruction). The scores were typed on ordinary white postcards and dated – and sometimes annotated – by Ono in blue ink. Much has been written about the wide-ranging influence of these event scores on Fluxus, conceptual, and performance art. A quick glance at the list of dedicatees for the various pieces gives a good idea of the early audience for these events: John Cage, David Tudor, La Monte Young, Nam June Paik, Morton Feldman, Peggy Guggenheim, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, George Brecht, Ray Johnson, Isamu Noguchi, Diane Wikoski, as well as George Maciunas, who was given these cards by Ono in 1964. The Maciunas Grapefruit cards are to be offered in our sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts, 5 December 2013.
Yoko Ono’s Original typescript with manuscript additions and emendations for her seminal Fluxus publication Grapefruit. On 151 Japanese postcards. Ca. 1952—1964. Estimate $300,000 – 500,000.
From 1964 up to the present, artists as varied as John Lennon and Sol Lewitt have come under the spell of this seductive and enjoyable collection of instructions. It was not until 1970 that an expanded mass-market edition of Grapefruit was brought out by Simon & Schuster in the U.S. and by other prominent publishers throughout Europe. Grapefruit was no longer to be enjoyed solely by the New York and Tokyo avant-garde. I was a high school Junior that year, living in a rural area of Arkansas, 120 miles from the bookstores in the state capital. I knew nothing about John Cage or La Monte Young, but I knew who Ono was and had read about Grapefruit in Time magazine. On a visit to Little Rock, I spotted Grapefruit’s bright-yellow dust jacket in a shop and bought it (less than $5, I believe). Here was the perfect guide for the small-town aspirant to the world of art and performance. I read the event scores (I didn’t know that’s what they were called at the time) many times and pictured the events in my mind. Last year, curator Alexandra Munroe wrote, “Event scores or instruction pieces could be performed in the mind as a thought … or as a live performance before an invited audience.” In “Kite Piece II,” Ono challenges us to find “old paintings such as de Kooning, Klein [sic], Pollack [sic],” make kites out of them, fly them high, and then cut the strings. In today’s world, no one would be so cavalier with a de Kooning; in 1953, however, Robert Rauschenberg did erase a de Kooning drawing to great acclaim and notoriety. The image of a fleshy, sensuous de Kooning (Pink Angels, say) floating in a clear blue sky, which Ono planted in my imagination almost thirty-five years ago, is still there today.
Ad Reinhardt’s letters to a young and beautiful lover. Estimate $80,000-120,000.
Looking through the section of 20th century artists’ documents in our current catalogue, I see the spirit of Grapefruit alive in other artists. It is certainly there in the work of her predecessor Marcel Duchamp in his word-play manuscripts (lots 144 and 145); in the playful puns and pictographs of Ad Reinhardt’s letters to a young and beautiful lover (lot 159), and most of all in Franz Kline’s spontaneous, but masterful, Happy Birthday Jess (lot 148), a huge birthday greeting in red paint on brown butcher’s paper. I can almost visualize the event score in my mind: “Make a birthday card 10 feet long, leave your footprints on it. You may sign it if you wish.”
Franz Kline’s Happy Birthday Jess. Estimate $70,000-100,000.
Yoko Ono celebrated her 80th birthday this year, but we still have not caught up with her. Walking in Manhattan on Black Friday, I observed crowds with their iPhones unconsciously performing her “Echo Telephone Piece” (spring 1964): “Get a telephone that only echoes back / your voice. / Call every day and talk about many / things.