John Lennon meets Yoko Ono

On the day before her exhibition Unfinished Paintings And Objects was to open, Japanese artist Yoko Ono was introduced to John Lennon for the first time.

That old gang of mine. That’s all over. When I met Yoko is when you meet your first woman and you leave the guys at the bar and you don’t go play football anymore and you don’t go play snooker and billiards. Maybe some guys like to do it every Friday night or something and continue that relationship with the boys, but once I found the woman, the boys became of no interest whatsoever, other than they were like old friends. You know: ‘Hi, how are you? How’s your wife?’ That kind of thing. You know the song: ‘Those wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine.’ Well, it didn’t hit me till whatever age I was when I met Yoko, which was twenty-six. Nineteen sixty-six we met, but the full impact didn’t… we didn’t get married till ’68, was it? It all blends into one bleeding movie!

But whatever, that was it. The old gang of mine was over the moment I met her. I didn’t consciously know it at the time, but that’s what was going on. As soon as I met her, that was the end of the boys, but it so happened that the boys were well known and weren’t just the local guys at the bar.

John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The exhibition was held at the Indica Gallery, in the basement of the Indica Bookshop in Mason’s Yard, just off Duke Street in Mayfair, London. The Indica was co-owned by John Dunbar, Peter Asher and Barry Miles, and was supported in its early years by Paul McCartney.

Advertisement for Yoko Ono's exhibition Unfinished Paintings, 1966

There was a sort of underground clique in London; John Dunbar, who was married to Marianne Faithfull, had an art gallery in London called Indica, and I’d been going around to galleries a bit on me off days in between records, also to a few exhibitions in different galleries that showed sort of unknown artists or underground artists.

I got the word that this amazing woman was putting on a show the next week, something about people in bags, in black bags, and it was going to be a bit of a happening and all that. So I went to a preview the night before it opened. I went in – she didn’t know who I was or anything – and I was wandering around. There were a couple of artsy-type students who had been helping, lying around there in the gallery, and I was looking at it and was astounded. There was an apple on sale there for two hundred quid; I thought it was fantastic – I got the humor in her work immediately. I didn’t have to have much knowledge about avant-garde or underground art, the humor got me straightaway. There was a fresh apple on a stand – this was before Apple – and it was two hundred quid to watch the apple decompose. But there was another piece that really decided me for-or-against the artist: a ladder which led to a painting which was hung on the ceiling. It looked like a black canvas with a chain with a spyglass hanging on the end of it. This was near the door when you went in. I climbed the ladder, you look through the spyglass and in tiny little letters it says ‘yes’. So it was positive. I felt relieved. It’s a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn’t say ‘no’ or ‘fuck you’ or something, it said ‘yes’.

I was very impressed and John Dunbar introduced us – neither of us knew who the hell we were, she didn’t know who I was, she’d only heard of Ringo, I think, it means apple in Japanese. And Dunbar had sort of been hustling her, saying, ‘That’s a good patron, you must go and talk to him or do something.’ John Dunbar insisted she say hello to the millionaire. And she came up and handed me a card which said ‘breathe’ on it, one of her instructions, so I just went [pant]. This was our meeting.

John Lennon
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Add Colour Painting featured white wood panels covered in cutout perspex, plus brushes and paints on a white chair. Visitors to the exhibition were invited to interact with the piece in whichever way they chose.

I call this Add Colour Painting. It is very important to have art which is living and changing. Every phase of life is beautiful; so is every phase of a painting.
Yoko Ono
Sunday Telegraph, 27 November 1966

Another piece was Play It By Trust aka White Chess Set, which carried the instructions: Play it for as long as you can remember who is your opponent and who is your own self. There was also Painting To Hammer A Nail In, a hammer attached to a block, into which people were invited to hammer nails.

Then I went up to this thing that said, ‘Hammer a nail in.’ I said, ‘Can I hammer a nail in?’ and she said no, because the gallery was actually opening the next day. So the owner, Dunbar, says, ‘Let him hammer a nail in.’ It was, ‘He’s a millionaire. He might buy it,’ you know. She’s more interested in it looking nice and pretty and white for the opening. That’s why she never made any money on the stuff; she’s always too busy protecting it!

So there was this little conference and she finally said, ‘OK, you can hammer a nail in for five shillings.’ So smart-ass here says, ‘Well, I’ll give you an imaginary five shillings and hammer an imaginary nail in.’ And that’s when we really met. That’s when we locked eyes and she got it and I got it and that was it.

John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Lennon later recalled the date of their meeting as 9 November 1966, but that was after Ono’s exhibition had opened. The most likely date is 7 November.

Last updated: 3 March 2023
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