As the small room with a podium at the front began to slowly fill, it struck me how not-so crowded, this “crowd” was. Yoko Ono is not a name taken lightly, and yet here I was casually waiting for her to present an award.
Deciding very last-minute to spend my October break in Iceland with a friend after finding crazy-cheap flights leaving from Boston Logan Airport, we happened upon one worldly experience after another.
After spending a few days driving around the wild landscape of this seemingly deserted island — a country that holds HALF the population of Vermont, and taking in all the natural wonders around us, a rainy Wednesday kept us within the boundaries of Iceland’s largest city and capital, Reykjavik.
Among the brightly painted buildings, past the gift shops with every-sized stuffed-toy puffin you can imagine, and restaurant menus boasting their genuine Icelandic cuisine, we found the Reykjavik Art Museum.
After inquiring at the front desk on admission for the day to this contemporary display of works by artists from around the world, we were met with a matter of fact answer in perfect English from the lady behind the counter.
“Well, it’s actually half-priced today, as most of our displays are closed right now. But feel free to come back on Friday for the opening. It’s free and Yoko Ono will be in attendance,” she said as she passed us a brochure for the event.
I didn’t think I had heard her correctly and asked again just what was happening.
We’re talking Yoko Ono here. World-renowned artist, peace activist, singer, songwriter. Her influence has seen no bounds. Not to mention, she’s the second wife and widow to none-other than John Lennon.
With a nod of our heads as though this kind of opportunity was a normal occurrence in our lives, we purchased our tickets for the day in disbelief.
After dishing out Icelandic Krona, roughly $7.15, and a quick walk through all of the available exhibits later, we adjusted our nonexistent schedule of events for the rest of the week to pencil Yoko in.
When Friday evening came, we made sure to be early for this happening social event. Yet testing the locked doors at 5:45 p.m., we figured they'd must have realized their mistake in inviting random civilians to such thing and were doing all they could to keep them out.
Ten minutes later, however, the doors opened. I had read before the trip that Icelandic time was a bit more relaxed then some of the rest of the world. It was common for people arrive 15 minutes past set start times.
Soon 6:40 p.m. came around and the room contained a comfortable number of people. Not too many, but certainly not lacking by any measure.
All I could think was how if this were occurring in the U.S., people would be lined up out the door for a chance to be a part of it, or else it would be red-carpet invite only.
After the mayor of Reykjavik, of all people, had spoken to the crowd in a blur of Icelandic, everyone applauded and started to disperse in the direction of the exhibits. Confused, we determined Yoko to be a no-show, as she was supposed to be giving a speech right after the mayor gave his piece.
Disappointed, we decided to check out the work we had been denied at our visit earlier in the week. Passing a table of wine glasses full of white and red wine for choosing, we each grabbed a free glass to make up for the let down.
Up a flight of stairs, we came to the collection of Yoko Ono’s exhibit titled, “One More Story.” Walking into a big white-walled room, people were abuzz in a manner not usually found at an art gallery.
Created as a way for spectators to build a relationship with the art, everything was interactive. We, as spectators, became an active part in making the actual art of the collection. How many people can say they helped create the latest work of a leading experimental and avant-garde artist?
To my left, people were writing on the wall, in a piece called “My Mommy is Beautiful” where Ono had left pencils and instructions for viewers to write their favorite memory of their mother on the wall.
In front of me, helmets were hung from the ceiling in a basket-like manner, full of thousands of puzzle pieces, each with blue and white hues to match the sky. A placard marking the piece said, “Take a piece of sky. Know that we are all part of each other.”
Large maps on the walls behind me told people to take a stamp reading “Imagine Peace” and mark on maps where in the world they want there to be peace.
Each work followed in the same interactive manner. All marked by moving, almost poetic explanations. The room and the work itself was alive.
An empty canvas sat alone toward the back of the room. The placard explained that Ono would make the initial marks on the canvas during the exhibit’s opening, then spectators could add to it as they pleased.
A bit sad that this piece would remain naked while the rest of the pieces would be touched and filled with the marks of people from all walks of life, I continued to look around. Pausing at a telephone sitting on a little stand in a quieter area of the gallery, a placard told me that the artist herself would be calling this phone during the duration of the exhibit, and that if it rang, spectators are welcomed to answer it.
The voice of a woman walking by pulled me out of my trance.
“She won’t ring you on that, love. She’s up at the front, ” the British woman said to me matter-of-factly.
My eyes widened as I whipped around to locate my travel partner and drag them to the front where a small crowd had gathered around the once-empty canvas.
After weaseling my way to the front of the pack, there she was. Small in stature, but her presence filled the entire room. Rocking an all-black outfit, from the sunglasses on her face to the black Nikes on her feet, she moved carefully from dipping her paintbrush to writing on the now color-filled canvas.
I snapped many photos while her bodyguard eyed us and the rest of the crowd.
After completing her work with the mayor’s help, she began her exit. Leaning on a young man, Yoko Ono, now 83, slowly walked through the exhibit, cameras following her the entire way as a flock of people still tried to steal a glance.
And that was it.
She came, she saw, she created, and she left.
The place was filled with the remaining wake of excitement from her visit. We grabbed our coats and little souvenirs of the art we helped create. Knowing we’d just experienced something special, we too made our way to the door, left with the memory of an event we stumbled upon in a country we just happened to visit.