Monday, April 23, 2007
Yoko Ono, Wish Tree for Washington
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
The Hirshhorn is much more successful in setting the tone and expectations for Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree for Washington, DC.” In keeping with Ono’s tradition of simple and concise instructions, the museum simply provides a sign letting visitors know about the tree’s presence in the sculpture garden as well as our own role in creating the piece: we are to write down our wishes and tie them to the tree.
Ono’s work always rides the edge of the poetic and idealistic, ever threatening to teeter over into hokeyness. Reading the description of the wish tree is enough to make a jaded art viewer cringe, expecting the worst. However, upon actually seeing the piece, my own cynicism was disarmed. A reading the various wishes showed that the work has a very human quality. The wishes included the expected altruisms (“I wish for world peace”) but also the politically charged (“I wish for an end to abortion,” “I wish for no more Bush”), the sarcastic (“I wish Yoko would stop making music”), the alarming (“I wish for more guns in my house”), the completely random (“I wish I could catch a seagull with my bare hands”), the libidinal (“I wish for hot sex”), and the heartbreakingly personal (“I wish for a cure for MS,” “I wish my mommy and daddy were back together,” “I wish for my brother to come home from Iraq”). The piece seems to involve an honesty and a breadth of human experience, as well as a democratic nature. As one gentleman in the sculpture garden explained to his children in a matter-of-fact southern drawl, “Some people wish for small wishes and some people wish for great wishes, but we all get to wish for what we choose.” It is satisfying to note that Ono will not read or censor any of the wishes but will include them all in a peace monument she will build in Iceland. This is refreshing in a time when many equate peace with heightened security, which involves censorship and suppression.
Ono did not invent the idea of the wish tree; it is a Japanese tradition to tie prayers to a tree. It seems almost like an offering, returning the paper back to its source. The wish tree is in some sense a modern day version of prayer; in a world where many no longer believe in a god, people still want their inner desires to be heard.
Ono’s work lacks the heavy-handedness so common in the art world today. Her instructions are minimal and so she allows participants to bring their own interpretation to the work. This may be why it can succeed even when dealing with potentially cheesy subject matter, and why there is not a wide gulf between the actual work and how the artist or curator frames it.