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 this was after Ono's exhibition had opened. The most likely date is 7 November.

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11 responses on “John Lennon meets Yoko Ono

  1. drtomoculus

    In this very article it says John Lennon attended Yoko Ono’s exhibition on the 9th November, 1966, the day before her exhibition was to open.

    In all advertisements of the exhibition, the day of opening is listed as November 8th. Even in the advert for it posted at this site, the exhibition runs from 2pm to 6pm. Lennon attends the exhibition when it’s all done for the day.

    “Work on mounting the exhibition went on until the early hours of last Tuesday (8th November 1966) morning. Around 3am a group of people pressed their noses to the Indica Gallery window and demanded entrance. Included in this group was film director Roman Polanski, who rushed around the exhibits ecstatically, shouting “this is the most beautiful? apple i have ever seen” IT Times Issue No.3 14th November 1966 article “The Most Beautiful Apple”. No mention of Lennon attending this exhibit in the early hours.

    If Lennon was going to attend the exhibit before it opened, it would surely be with this crowd of people hanging around at 3am. Not the 2nd day of the exhibit, after it was shut down for the day.

    When did Lennon actually attend Ono’s exhibit?

    1. Joe Post author

      Hmm. Very good points. The advert and IT articles suggest different dates, so it’s rather confusing. In the International Times on 14 October, as you say, the exhibition was called Instruction Paintings and was to run from 9-22 November. By the time IT dated 14 November was published it seems that the exhibition had been renamed Unfinished Paintings, but still opened on the 9th.

      I assume that when the advert in this article was placed in IT they were intending to open on the 8th, but it never happened like that. The advert was placed in IT, incidentally, in issue two, dated 31 October 1966.

      I don’t think Lennon attended with Roman Polanski. That’s notable enough to have been reported or remembered in interviews, and I’ve never heard it mentioned anywhere. I presume Lennon went at a different time before it opened (I don’t think it was at 3am; presumably Polanski et al turned up after a night in the clubs), probably during the day.

      I think 9 November is probably the wrong date for this article, but I’m not sure if it should be 7 or 8 November. I’d be interested to hear more thoughts on this – any help to get precisely the right date would be much appreciated.

      1. drtomoculus

        I’m researching now, because things just do not add up or match. Lennon in 1971 stated he had heard Ono was going to have an exhibit the week before it opened. This means, he heard about it anywhere from Monday the 31st October, 1966 until Sunday the 6th November, 1966. If his memory served him correctly. I believe this may have been John Dunbar that told him of it.

        Also checking out the 13th November 1966 article that ran in the Sunday Telegraph that claimed two Beatles had approached Allen Klein for representation. McCartney could not be reached for comment, as he was out of the country (returning the 19th November 1966). Epstein is reported to have dismissed these claims, Lennon was angered that it seemed they were splitting from Epstein, which they were not, and Harrison/Starkey were both disturbed by this report. Klein denied spreading the rumour/story. So who did break this story to the Telegraph? Enough that it was a front page article. Which two Beatles approached Klein and when. It is also to be noted, that with the death of Epstein, Lennon, Harrison and Starr all were bewildered and in a state of shock. But not McCartney. Well, that’s not fair to say. It just seems that he delved straight into the managerial position so sudden;y vacated by Brian. This has been noted and observed, that McCartney stopped for nothing, as if nothing happened. That may just be the way people work through grief. Harrison did the same when working on All Things Must Pass and his mother’s death.

        1. Joe Post author

          On the latter point, it’s worth mentioning that Paul and George both went into the studio the day after John Lennon died (George at home at FPSHOT, Paul at AIR in London with George Martin). I doubt the sessions were especially productive, but it’s instructive to note how their reaction was to carry on working as much as possible.

          As for the true date for the Lennon/Ono meeting, for what it’s worth Albert Goldman has it as 7 November (page 243 in my edition). I know Goldman gets slammed by many fans, but he seems to have interviewed Barry Miles who co-ran Indica and generally has very reliable memories of events. That said, Miles’ own Beatles Diary book has the date as 9 November.

          1. Chuck

            In my opinion, Paul’s reactions when Brian and John passed away could be atributed to the past experience with the death), there are people who not show absolutely feelings in public, but is diferent in the privacy, and seems Paul is those kind of people

  2. drtomoculus

    Something’s not right here.
    4th October, 1966 – Ringo Starr joins John Lennon in Spain.
    9th October, 1966 – John Lennon celebrates birthday in Spain. Ringo Starr leaves soon after to return to England.
    22nd October, 1966 – George Harrison returns to London from India.
    6th November, 1966 – Paul McCartney leaves for France
    9th (?) November, 1966 – John Lennon attends Yoko Ono’s exhibition at the Indica. He states in 1971 he knew about it a week before the opening.
    12th November, 1966 – McCartney arranges to meet Mal Evans under a clock somewhere in France. They then drive to Spain hoping to meet Lennon who they think is still filming How I Won the War.

    If Lennon knew about the opening a week before, did he get a telegram of such importance while he was in Spain notifying him of such an event. Was it that important. The very question being, was he still in Spain at all at the end of October/early November 1966. And if George, Ringo, and Paul are all accounted for being in England up until the 6th November, 1966, where was John Lennon. He was definitely in England to go to the exhibition THE NIGHT BEFORE it opened. Whether that is the 7th November, 1966, or the 8th is in question.

    So why is Paul looking for him in France. Speaking on behalf of The Beatles on 6th November, 1966:
    “On this day Brian Epstein, speaking on behalf of The Beatles, turned down a request for them to appear on a television special in aid of the victims’ families. Several public figures called on the world’s biggest band to make a gesture of support, but none was forthcoming.

    Although they were sympathetic to the people of Aberfan’s plight, The Beatles were reluctant to be drawn into a benefit event. At the time the notion of a charity concert was unheard of. Furthermore, having recently given up touring, The Beatles were keen to avoid any actions which would have further turned them into public property.”

    Now of course, Brian Epstein can make that decision for all of them. He doesn’t need to get all their opinions on the table before making a statement. He’s got two at least to comment, Ringo and George. Paul has just flown out to France that very day. And John? Where is he.

    1. Joe Post author

      I’d ignore the 1971 quote about hearing about the launch a week before. At that time Lennon used to say loads of nonsense in his interviews, and he was famously vague about dates and details. Also, if he went on a three-day acid binge on his return from Spain, he probably didn’t know how long it was between his arrival back in England and his meeting Yoko Ono.

  3. Cecil Treadwell

    When Paul McCartney gave his presentation “letter to John” when John Lennon was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Paul mentioned how Yoko Ono approached him at his home to secure a music manuscript to put with those from other composers to give to John Cage on his birthday September 5.
    Paul said it was ok with him, but she had to go see John and get his approval as well. This was close to the time that John was in Spain during the filming of “How I Won The War”.
    But Yoko was far from being oblivious to who the Beatles were.

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