Yoko in her 1965 performance art Cut Piece
Dropping out of the graduate track program in philosophy at Tokyo's Peers School, Ono moved to New York in 1953 joining her immediate family who were already there. After some time at Sarah Lawrence College, she became involved in New York City's downtown artists scene, collaborating and working with members in and around the Fluxus group. An independent artist in her own right before meeting Lennon, both the media and the public were critical of her for years. She was repeatedly criticized for her influence over Lennon and his music, and blamed for the breakup of the Beatles: The couple's early years coincided with the band's final ones. Her experimental art was also not popularly understood, and, after Lennon's death, her disagreements with Paul McCartney received as much attention as her billboards and music releases, which the media usually advanced simply as attempts at self-promotion.
This public perception shifted over time, helped by, among other things, a retrospective at a Whitney Museum branch in 1989. This was followed by a 1992 interview in L.A.-based music magazine, Option which coincided with the release of the six-disc box set Onobox. Retrospectives of her artwork were presented at the Japan Society in New York City in 2001, in Bielefeld, Germany, and the UK in 2008, and Frankfurt, Krems, Austria, and Bilbao, Spain in 2013. She received a Golden Lion Award for lifetime achievement from the Venice Biennale in 2009 and the 2012 Oskar Kokoschka Prize, Austria's highest award for applied contemporary art.
As Lennon's widow she works to preserve his legacy, funding and maintaining Strawberry Fields in New York City, the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland, and the John Lennon Museum in Saitama, Japan. Individually and under her and Lennon's name, she has made significant philanthropic contributions to arts, peace, Philippine and Japan disaster relief, and outreach programs for AIDS and autism. She has a daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox, from her marriage to Anthony Cox and a son, Sean Lennon, from her marriage to Lennon. She and Sean collaborate frequently musically.
She brought feminism to the forefront in her music influencing artists as diverse as the B-52s and Meredith Monk. Her collaborative albums with Lennon under the Plastic Ono Band rubric — Live Peace in Toronto 1969 and 1972's Some Time in New York City — reached No. 10 and No. 48 on the album charts respectively. (Double Fantasy from 1980, released three weeks before Lennon's death, reached No. 1.) Since 2003, eleven of her songs, mostly remixes of her older work, have hit No. 1 on the US dance chart.
She and Lennon famously used their honeymoon as a stage for public protests against the Vietnam War in their Bed-Ins for Peace in Amsterdam and Montreal in spring of 1969. In addition to co-writing "Give Peace a Chance," she also co-wrote with Lennon the experimental piece, "Revolution 9" on The White Album, and contributed lead vocals on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," the latter marking the only occasion in the entire Beatles catalog where a woman sings lead vocal. Ono has also remained on the forefront in activism, inaugurating a biennial $50,000 LennonOno Grant for Peace in 2002 and co-founding the group Artists Against Fracking in 2012. On March 20, 2013, she tweeted an image of Lennon's bloodied glasses to her then-3.7 million Twitter followers with the words, "Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the USA since John Lennon was shot and killed on 8 Dec 1980."
Yoko Ono in Chair Piece, a performance at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo on May 24, 1962.
She’s Still Got It: At 75, Yoko Ono is still blowing up the dance floor