‘Mended Cups’ was released in 2015 – but for over a year no one saw its story of life and love, artfully hidden in six dates
“Oh no – did they get the year wrong? That would be a proofreading disaster….”
I was looking online at a photo of Yoko Ono’s set of espresso cups, artwork that she had created for the illycaffè espresso company in 2015 as part of an ongoing artist series, which had been released to coincide with her exhibit Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971 (May 17-September 7, 2015) at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The set ‘Mended Cups‘ consists of six “shattered and mended” cups, and six individual saucers, each with the place and date of a catastrophic war event written on them, along with the words “…mended in 2015.” A seventh cup and saucer, ‘Unbroken Cup’, remains undated and unbroken, and is inscribed with the words “This cup will never be broken as it will be under your protection.”
Due to the way the photo was composed, on one of the cups I couldn’t read the name of the event, just a slightly blurred date: April 26, 1987. But wait: didn’t the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happen in 1986? I looked it up…yes, the Chernobyl disaster occurred April 26, 1986. But that last number in the photo was clearly a “7”. That can’t be right.That would be a hugely embarrassing error for illy – and for Ono. I searched for other photos from different angles, or at least a list of the events that were supposed to be memorialized on the cups.
Another, much clearer, picture quickly solved the puzzle: the date on the saucer was April 26, 1937, not 1987 (I blame the first fuzzy picture, and not my cheater-needin’ eyes, for not seeing it). That date occurred during World War II, when the strafing of the town of Guernica in Spain occurred.
The six dates on the cups are:
February 13, 1945: Bombing of Dresden
March 16, 1968: My Lai Massacre
April 26, 1937: Bombing of Guernica
August 6, 1945: Bombing of Hiroshima
December 13, 1937: Nanking Massacre
December 8, 1980: John Lennon’s Assassination
But now I wondered: why not Chernobyl? What made this particular group of dates a set? I suppose one could argue that Chernobyl was a peacetime accident, and that the other events occurred during wartime – except for Lennon’s death. The events seemed to be related in that they were the dates of terror attacks – the massacre of the innocent with excessive and overwhelming force, designed to break the will of the people. That seems to be a more likely reason for the grouping. But why group these specific ones with Lennon’s tragic death? Why not, say, September 11 – because there wasn’t an already-declared war then in progress? Why not – and sadly one could keep giving “why not” examples, as there are far too many throughout history – the 1950 Sinchon Massacre in North Korea, which began on October 17, 1950 and where it is alleged that 35,000 people were killed by American military forces and supporters, many tortured and beheaded?
Maybe these five particular events were chosen because the attacks provoked world outrage and calls for the end of war? That would relate to Lennon’s anti-war passion. From the Wikipedia pages:
Dresden: “the bombing becoming one of the moral causes célèbres of the war”
My Lai: “The incident prompted global outrage when it became public knowledge in November 1969”
Guernica: journalist George Steer’s report “was syndicated to the New York Times and then worldwide, generating widespread shock, outrage, and fear”
But, contrast that with the reaction to the bombing of Hiroshima: at the time, there was little if any outrage in the United States, and there was mostly relief here and in other countries that the action seemed to have resulted in the end of World War II. As for Nanking, the title of Iris Chang’s 1997 book says it clearly: “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II”. In these two cases, any outrage was much, much slower to rise.
Then I noticed something: one of the dates, February 13, was coincidentally the date when, in 1967, the Lennon-written single ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was released. And of course, three years earlier, in February 1964, The Beatles were in the midst of their own invasion – part of the musical “British Invasion” of America. Out of curiosity, I picked another date and searched for “John Lennon December 13”. December 13, 1969 was the publication date of an interview with John Lennon, whose comments led to the explosive headline “Beatles Are On The Brink Of Splitting”. Also in the article, Lennon plugs the just-released album Live Peace in Toronto 1969, the first by his and Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band.
Could that be why these particular catastrophic dates were chosen? Was there some other, deeper layer of Lennon meaning to Yoko Ono’s art, hidden in plain sight in the dates?
I next picked the date that started me on this journey, and learned that on April 26, 1975, John Lennon’s cover of Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’ reached its peak position of #20 on the US Billboard’s Hot 100, and on April 27, 1964, The Beatles’ first single ‘Love Me Do’ was released in the United States. That did it: I was hooked. I grabbed a pen and paper to make notes, and started searching.
After a long, slightly obsessive online immersion in the details of Lennon and Beatles history – which felt like rummaging through a jumbled box of someone else’s meaningful photographs – I sat back and took in the totality of my scrawled notations, randomly lined up in columns under each date. Slowly, patterns of connections began to emerge…
…and I immediately went back on line to try to find any reviews, any comments, anything at all mentioning Yoko Ono’s espresso cups.
Ars adeo latet arte sua (The art is hidden by its own artistry). ~Ovid, poet
I dove into the illy and MoMA websites, and hammered away at search engines, but didn’t find much, just a few perfunctory and descriptive press releases, and other brief reviews that touched on the dates and the tragedies and Lennon tragedy. One writer saw a positive message – mending one’s own emotional cup, but the few other articles that weren’t just rehashes of the original press release mostly noted that, oh yes, it was sad, so very sad.
My eyes did start to well up a bit – but not with sadness. It felt more like being at a wedding, intimately witnessing the deeply alive love of a couple exchanging their vows. As I read my notes over and over like some treasured letter, the several themes that connected the dates became increasingly clear. I was stunned. Wiping back a few tears, laughing at myself for getting verklempt, gazing at the page in disbelieving wonder, I thought: this is a deceptively simple, yet amazingly conceived and crafted work of art. It is an astonishingly beautiful gift of love. I can’t believe that no one else has seen this.
Art is not what you see, but what you make others see. ~Edgar Degas, painter
There are only 365 (or, occasionally, 366) days in a year. Relative to our lifetimes and our history, that’s a pretty small number of days to bookmark our memories into. To put it another way, every day is an anniversary of something, to someone, somewhere. Sometimes those calendar bookmarks are shared widely, such as with major historical events. Other dates are important, but shared by a smaller circle, like a high school graduation. And then there are those intimate moments of significance, personal anniversaries of days that are momentous to just one or two or a few people, but to everyone else those days are just another day in the life.
What all of our bookmarked dates have in common is some change. Something changed. Change – whether it is small or large, negative or positive, an ending or a beginning – is always in some way disruptive. Whether it’s a birth or a bombing, a marriage or a mass uprising, a first meeting or second look or the third try, the things we remember are the things that we changed, or that changed us – the events that changed in some way the way that we see or feel or act.
The genius of this piece lies in both the dates and the design. The first conceptual key that led to the creation of ‘Mended Cups’ was noticing the alignment of the dates of the five war catastrophes with meaningful dates across the different years and different layers of Lennon’s life.
All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography. ~Federico Fellini, film director
Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan famously coined the phrase “the medium is the message”, meaning that the delivery system of a message (text, pictures, broadcast, etc.) influences how the message is perceived. Yoko Ono turned that aphorism on its head, stating that “the message is the medium“. As a conceptual artist, much of Yoko’s work translates ideas and imagination into art using language and information as the messenger, and that is true here: the saucers may be canvas for the dates, but the dates and names of the events – the message – are the scaffolding medium for this art.
December 8, 1980, the date of Lennon’s assassination, is ground zero, the reference point for the piece. That one event set off shockwaves of change in music, in culture, in political and social issues, and in the personal lives of the people who loved him. However, when he was alive…he also set off shockwaves of change in music, in culture, in political and social issues, and in the personal lives of the people who loved him! The names of the five war catastrophies written on the saucers are meant to jolt us as powerful metaphors for what happened to him, but the same emotional power of those names also effectively renders them large dark leaves, obscuring in an almost playfully deceptive way what is under them. Unless you look not at the names but at the dates themselves, through the lens of Lennon, you’ll miss the surprise of strawberries underneath.
This set of six dates, and the espresso cup design that showcases them, powerfully focuses in one place the many events and the symbolic metaphors that, when brought together as a whole, form a cleverly original biography of John Lennon, telling his life story and showing the tremendous impact that he had.
A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. ~Paul Cezanne, painter
John Lennon’s and The Beatles’ music was and still is a phenomenal cultural force. Their songs, almost all written or co-written by Lennon, were regularly chart-toppers; an entire generation learned the language of love by listening to The Beatles. In the studio, they innovated and established many musical milestones in instrument sound, studio recording, and mixing techniques. They changed, and kept changing, the direction of music. The ‘Mended Cups’ dates highlight many of their important releases.
1964: (4/27) US release of the single ‘Love Me Do / P.S. I Love You’. Both songs were co-written by Lennon and McCartney. ‘Love Me Do’ was the band’s first hit. It marked the group’s first use of harmonica, which was a distinctive feature of their early hits. ‘P.S. I Love You’ became their first top ten placement on the Billboard US singles chart as the B-side of their number one single ‘Love Me Do’. The song was to be included on the album ‘Please Please Me’, which would be released in both mono and stereo, but it had only been recorded on a single track. To solve the problem, a “fake” duophonic stereo mix was made from a mono mix: the song was rechanneled to have treble frequencies on one side and bass frequencies on the other, which simulated a stereo effect.
1966: UK release of the single ‘Yellow Submarine / Eleanor Rigby’, and the UK (8/5) and US (8/8) releases of the album Revolver. The album introduced “a radical new phase in the group’s recording career” with innovative recording and production techniques that were later adopted as industry standards.
1980: John Lennon and Yoko Ono begin recording their album Double Fantasy, his first album since he put his career on hold in 1975 to stay at home and raise his son Sean, and the last album to be released before his death.
1969: (12/12) UK release of the charity album No One’s Gonna Change Our World by various artists with the first track ‘Across The Universe’ written by Lennon and sung by The Beatles. The song was recorded back in February 1968 before the group went to India; instead of releasing it at that time as a single while they were with the Maharishi, the group chose instead to release ‘Lady Madonna’.
1969: (12/12) Release of The Plastic Ono Band’s album Live Peace In Toronto 1969. It is the first album released by John and Yoko’s band. It is also the first live album released by any member of The Beatles, either separately or together.
1970: (12/11) UK and US release of the two albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. Both albums were recorded during the same time period, used the same musicians and production team, and and were designed with almost identical cover artwork.
1967: UK release of the Magical Mystery Tour double EP. Six songs were used in the film of the same name, which was too few to produce an LP and too many for an EP. The Beatles decided to release the songs in what was then an innovative format of two EPs packaged together in a gatefold sleeve with a 28-page booklet containing lyrics, photos, and color illustrations.
Art is a bang/blast. Tarō Okamoto, abstract artist
In the short 10 years that The Beatles were together, they created more change and innovation than any other band in the music industry. With the songwriting brilliance of Lennon and McCartney, the band sang their way to Number One – singles and albums – more often than any other band before or since. Culturally, they were leaders in creating style trends, and influencing attitudes and social values. There was even a term coined for the frenzy of their fanbase: Beatlemania. Lennon’s blunt and clever outspokenness was amplified by the megaphone of his celebrity, and more than once an offhand comment sent shockwaves that had a disruptive effect either on the group’s internal cameraderie or their external popularity.
1964: After The Beatles’ February 9th debut on The Ed Sullivan Show beginning the “Beatles Invasion”, the group flies from NYC to Miami.
1966: The Beatles receive 10 Grammy nominations.
1968: (2/10) The Beatles close Beatles U.S.A. Ltd., their American fan club and business office, and fire their US press agents, severing all American business connections. They also withdraw from the late Brian Epstein’s NEMS Enterprises and turn all business affairs over to their newly formed record company, Apple.
1964: The Beatles take top billing at the New Musical Express Annual Poll Winners All-Star Concert, which was filmed by ABC TV for later broadcast in May.
1971: John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, through their attorneys, state that they will not continue to contest Paul McCartney’s decision to leave the band, thus ending The Beatles.
1966: Manager Brian Epstein holds a press conference to try to address the public relations fallout from the republication, without full context, of John Lennon’s comment that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, and the subsequent New York Times article “Comment on Jesus Spurs A Radio Ban Against the Beatles” published August 5th. Two days after the press conference, The Beatles’ records were banned by the South African Broadcasting Corporation. After The Beatles broke up, Paul, George and Ringo’s solo albums were allowed to be aired there, but not John’s.
1969: New Musical Express publishes an exclusive interview with John Lennon: “Beatles Are On The Brink Of Splitting”. In the interview, John also plugs the Plastic Ono Band’s newly released first album, Live Peace In Toronto 1969.
Art…is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity. ~Leo Tolstoy, writer
John and Yoko are famously known for their antiwar activism. However, they also used their music, art, celebrity status, and the circumstances of their lives to protest and create awareness on other social issues.
Legalization of marijuana: In 1968, John and Yoko were arrested in London for possession of cannabis. John pled guilty and took sole responsibility to protect Yoko, who could potentially have been deported from England. Years later, the US government used that 1968 conviction for cannabis as an ongoing tactic to try to deport him from America. As one of several protests during this period, he performed at a concert to support freeing a man who had been sentenced to 10 years for attempting to sell two marijuana joints.
Deportation laws: Using records obtained via a request filed in 1973 under the new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA was enacted in 1967), the lawyer representing John and Yoko in their deportation hearings was able to prove that prosecutorial discretion in deportation law was being secretly used and unevenly applied; the decision in this case forced the Department of Justice to make the policy and consideration factors regarding deportation public, a step towards leveling the playing field for all immigrants.
Feminism: John was an early role model for gender equality. He was an active supporter of his wife’s career, and saw her as his equal. Right from the beginning of their relationship, they worked together on creative projects in music, film, and conceptual art. The song ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’ was written as a strong protest against female subservience and male chauvinism. Long before it became socially acceptable to do so, he stayed home as a full-time househusband and was the primary caregiver for his son Sean from birth to age 5.
The distinction between art and obscenity: From the nude cover art for the album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins to the Bag One portfolio with erotic art drawn by John as a wedding gift for Yoko, from Yoko’s No. 4 film (a/k/a Bottoms) which shows close-ups of buttocks to John and Yoko’s film Fly, which follows a fly as it crawls over a female body, the visual art of the Lennons repeatedly challenged the notion that the human body is somehow shameful and should be censored. Pointing up the conflict that the body politic felt about nude bodies, in April 1970 John’s art was ruled both obscene and not obscene.
1975: Rolling Stone magazine publishes article: “Lennon Wins Right To Quiz Justice Dept.”
1971: (3/12 UK, 3/22 US) ‘Power to the People’, a protest anthem written by John Lennon, is released as a single and credited to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
1972: John Lennon wins a delay in his deportation hearings.
1970: (4/27) The London High Court dismisses summonses against the London Art Gallery of Bond Street, and its director Eugene Schuster, over John Lennon’s Bag One lithographs, which have been ruled not to be obscene.
1972: (4/24) US release of John Lennon’s politically controversial single ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’ along with ‘Sisters O Sisters’, performed by Yoko Ono.
1972: Lennon’s immigration attorney’s request to drop Lennon’s deportation case receives a formal rejection from the INS. The next day, John publicly states that the proceedings against him are “politically motivated”.
1972: A lengthy internal FBI memo is written regarding surveillance of anti-war activists, including Lennon; it is finally released in 1997 after over a decade of litigation under the Freedom Of Information Act.
1973: Publication of Rolling Stone magazine article: “John and Yoko Fight Deportation Decision”.
1967: (8/8) Yoko Ono’s film No.4 (Bottoms) premieres at the Jacey Tatler Cinema in London.
1971: LIFE magazine reviews the film Fly, which was co-directed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
1969: (12/17) The Plastic Ono Band takes part in a benefit concert for UNICEF at the Lyceum Ballroom in London, entitled Peace for Christmas.
1971: (12/10) John Lennon and Yoko Ono perform at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally. Sinclair had been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for attempting to sell two marijuana joints. Sinclair is released on December 13, three days after the concert.
1971: John Lennon pens a letter to radio and television personality Joe Franklin, praising Yoko Ono’s music and asking Franklin to listen to a recording of hers called ‘AOS,’ which was recorded February 29, 1968 with Ornette Coleman at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
1941: The United States declares war on Japan, officially beginning its involvement in World War II.
Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence. ~Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher
The days that hold personal meaning for us – the first time we learned someone’s name, or said “I love you”, or made the decision to get married – usually pass unknown to most people. Most of our lives, however, are not as widely scrutinized as those of John Lennon and the other Beatles. And so, entwined with the cataloging of John’s very public life of making music, protesting the Vietnam war, fighting obscenity charges, and trying to avoid deportation, we can find some dates of meaningful events in what would normally be the more private life of family.
Father, mother, aunts, uncles, wife, ex-wife, children and step-children: we tend not to think of them (at least, not often) when thinking of our music idol. But those are the relationships that shaped him, and that were in turn affected by his very public life. Birthdays, funerals, marriages, divorces, moving out, moving in, miscarriages and births again: these dates are the private bookmarks that celebrity makes more public. Not that John avoided making his private life public! As mentioned earlier, to celebrate the beginning of his relationship with Yoko they created the album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, complete with humbly nude cover shots; and as a wedding gift to Yoko, John created and later exhibited Bag One, a portfolio of art containing several erotic line drawings of her.
There were times, though, when personal problems became achingly public. The Lennons were fighting a custody battle and trying to locate Yoko’s daughter Kyoto – John’s step-daughter – who had been kidnapped by her father after Yoko had been awarded custody, while simultaneously fighting against John’s potential deportation by the INS due to a cannabis conviction in London in 1968. On March 30, 1972, those two crises crossed: The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the Virgin Island court custody decision in Yoko’s favor – but only if the Lennons remained in the United States. Yoko had her green card, but John could still be deported; that legal battle would not be resolved for several more years. In ‘The Beatles: Off The Record 2 – The Dream is Over’, author Keith Badman writes about her later testimony on May 17, 1972:
When Government attorney, Vincent Schiano asked Mrs Lennon if she would accept permanent residence even if her husband were deported, she wrung a handkerchief, choked back tears, and answered, ‘That’s a hard decision to make. You are asking me to choose between my husband and my child. I only hope you will understand our situation and consider our child and not consider the technicalities as important in this case.’
The pressures of those and other problems caused John and Yoko to separate for several years before getting back together in 1975 and, later that year, giving birth to a son. The despair, the joy, the terror, the humor, and the regeneration of life: those are all the kinds of personal events that are symbolically represented in these “shattered and mended” cups.
1969: (4/22) John Lennon legally changes his name to John Ono Lennon in a ceremony on the roof of the Apple building at 3 Savile Row.
1969: John Lennon remixes recordings of his and Yoko Ono’s heartbeats (recorded 4/22 and re-recorded 4/27) for the song ‘John and Yoko’ on their album Wedding Album; the track features the two of them speaking and shouting each other’s names in stereo.
1972: The Dakota Apartments, where the Lennons will move to in 1973, is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1975: John Lennon’s cover of Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’ reaches its peak position of #20 on the US Billboard’s Hot 100.
1964: (8/11) The Yoko Ono Farewell Concert takes place at Sogetsu Kaikan Hall in Tokyo. In September Yoko moves away from Tokyo for the last time, and moves back to New York with Cox and their daughter Kyoko.
1973: (N.D.) John Lennon and Yoko Ono separate but do not divorce. John begins a relationship with his and Yoko’s personal assistant May Pang, beginning “the lost weekend“.
In addition to the six dates, the years of the events are also significant personal bookmarks. Four of the events occurred during World War II: two in 1937 and two in 1945. John and Yoko’s childhoods were similar in several ways. Both of their fathers were absent much of the time right from their births due to changing work assignments or job transfers. They each had a major move at age 4 that changed the direction of their lives and began to shape their perceptions of themselves as outsiders.
Explanations of this event vary. Some stories suggest that Julia willingly handed her son over to Mimi; others portray the change as being brought on by child-welfare officials disturbed by the boy’s home situation; and still others claim that Mimi essentially stole Lennon….
Design is like gravity – the force that holds it all together. ~Edgar A. Whitney, painter
The second conceptual key to this artwork is the ingenious use of espresso cups as the design concept for the piece. The dates could have been presented in many different ways – painted on canvas, chiseled in stone, written on the ceiling – so why put them on espresso cups? According to many sources, John loved coffee: he reportedly drank 20-30 cups of coffee or tea each day. He was a regular at the now-closed Cafe La Fortuna, which opened in 1976 on New York’s Upper West Side near his home at The Dakota. The cups could be symbolically “broken” and “mended”, recalling the destruction and rebuilding of the places terrorized by war violence. ‘Mended Cups’ has its conceptual beginnings in an earlier work done in 1966, ‘Mend Piece‘, which was displayed at the same exhibition where Yoko first met John.
‘Mend Piece’ is one that ties together the effects of war and the solidarity of human life. It was a piece that Ono created in 1966 which was on display at her first solo exhibition in the Indica Gallery in London. Ono placed a smashed clay tea pot and saucer on display for her audience to come back and put the delicate art back together. It did not matter whether or not the pottery matched or put back together perfectly, but what did matter was everyone coming together to help make it whole again.
This time, though, Yoko has made the cups whole again by herself.
To mend the cups, Yoko used the Japanese technique of Kintsugi, which uses brushstrokes of lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum to join the pieces together again. The repair is visible, and is meant to be. The philosophy behind it is active acceptance of one’s history, honoring and not hiding the broken places, valuing the experiences by using them as the basis for creating something unique.
In a TED Talk on creativity, artist Julie Burstein talks about four aspects of life that we need to embrace in order for our own creativity to flourish, one of which is
…the embrace of loss, the oldest and most constant of human experiences. In order to create, we have to stand in that space between what we see in the world and what we hope for, looking squarely at rejection, at heartbreak, at war, at death. That’s a tough space to stand in.
Burstein uses a piece of pottery mended with the kintsugi method as a metaphor:
…we can look at those cracks, because they tell the story that we all live, of the cycle of creation and destruction, of control and letting go, of picking up the pieces and making something new.
Isn’t that what happens to all of us? Life dents and breaks us in ways large and small, and we mend the pieces in ways that make us unique. And isn’t that what we all want? Not to have to hide our cracks, not to wear a mask, but to be seen as a whole person, to be accepted, valued, and loved for our uniqueness?
‘Mended Cups’ is honoring both the disruption of change and the creativity that grows from the cracks. But valuing the cracks does not in any way mean that we are glad the cracks happened. Do we wish that none of these war horrors had happened? Of course. Do we wish that John Lennon were still alive today? Absolutely! But what has happened cannot be undone. How we choose to mend and remember it, and what we learn from it, is what is important now.
What about the 7th cup – the undated, unbroken one? In one sense, it could possibly represent Yoko herself. At times her music and artwork “were greeted with mockery, incomprehension and even rage“. This writer sums it up:
She is out there in the lonely wide open — from being a silenced daughter to a war transplant to an expatriate to an unpopular artist to a feminist with few female friends to a lover blamed by the world for the breakup of its favorite band to losing her daughter to a cult to losing her husband to a killer. She manages all these losses and holds her ground. She is not swept away.
She is not broken. “This cup will never be broken as it will be under your protection.”
Of course, another possible explanation is that, maybe, the cup simply represents love: unbroken no matter what.
Everything you can imagine is real. ~Pablo Picasso, painter
The more I saw patterns and connections in ‘Mended Cups’, the more I became hyper-alert: where else would there be hidden meaning? Was there some pattern to the cup/saucer pairings too? How would the artist set up the installation? I went back and looked at different pictures online – and yes, for some reason each uniquely mended cup seemed to be paired with the same event saucer each time, even though the overall groupings were arranged differently. But there was something else that was interesting: in each photo, the cups were styled so that the brand mark inside the cup, “illy art collection”, faced the camera – except for the December 8th cup. It was the same in most of the pictures I found (except for the MoMA website, which did the reverse). What did that mean? Why is John’s cup turned away from our view?
Don’t look at the words, look at the cup handles.
Lennon – that caffeine fiend – was left-handed.
Wait! No he wasn’t, he was really right-handed! But Paul…Paul was left-handed. Oh, no! Is turning the cup handle to the left like playing the record backwards? Is that the sinister message? After all these years, are we now finding out that Paul is really dead???
All these layers of revealed hidden meanings…I’m peeling them back like an onion….
Wait. Is this artwork a glass onion?
Nothing is real. ~John Lennon
By the mid-1960s the lyrics of The Beatles songs had evolved beyond the romantic images of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance with You’ to the more abstract images found in ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘I Am the Walrus’ – metaphors like “marmalade skies”, “newspaper taxis”, and “Semolina Pilchard”. Lennon was amused and increasingly annoyed at the earnestness of the numbers of fans who would try to dissect The Beatles’ songs to uncover secret meanings behind the mysterious lyrics. His response was to double down and create “a song deliberately filled with red herrings, obscure imagery and allusions to past works”.
So, are the espresso cups ceramic onions, then? Is illycaffè slyly repurposing cracked factory seconds? Are all the matching dates just some weird statistical coincidence, like the likelihood of someone in a group having the same birthday as you?
If I were to contact Yoko or her representative to ask these questions, I would most likely receive only an enigmatic smile – which is the correct response.
The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.
~Marcel Duchamp, conceptual artist
It is probably a fair statement to say that a fair amount of art is created to woo, celebrate, mourn, or remember love. It is probably also a fair statement to say that other people shamelessly take and use that created art to themselves woo, celebrate, mourn, or remember the love of others. Most people initially associate art with painting or sculpture, but art can also be a song or a pencil drawing, a play or great literature, a conceptual mind game or performance art.
Lennon penned his art – songs and pencil drawings – seemingly effortlessly. But a closer listen/look reveals that, although there were several anecdotal stories of songs being tossed off in one day, much of his work was talent plus drive being applied to making sense of his life. Paul du Noyer writes in the foreword to his book John Lennon: The Stories Behind Every Song, 1970-1980, that he “tackled his songs like they were episodes of an autobiography….In his songs he turned that turbulent life into poetry”. To remember and pay tribute to that talent, and to his life and music, the play Lennon: The Musical was created, and it was 11 years ago that it began its world premiere at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, running from April 12 through May 14. The play later went on to Broadway, running from August 14 to September 24.
The secret of art is love. ~Antoine Bourdelle, sculptor
Yoko gave permission for the production to use two unfinished songs written by John, ‘India, India‘ and ‘I Don’t Want to Lose You‘. (A third song not recorded by Lennon but recorded by Ringo Starr for his album Rotogravure, ‘Cookin’ (In the Kitchen of Love)’, was also slated to be included, but was cut from the show prior to the opening on Broadway.)
‘India, India’ was written during the Beatles’ visit to India in 1968. Although John was there with his then-wife Cynthia, it is clear from the lyrics he wrote where his thoughts secretly were.
Take me to your heart
Reveal your ancient mysteries to me
I’m searching for an answer
But somewhere deep inside
I know I’ll never find it here
It’s already in my mind
Listen to my plea
Sit here at your feet so patiently
I’m waiting by the river
but somewhere in my mind
I left my heart in England
With the girl I left behind
I’ve got to follow my heart
Wherever it takes me
I’ve got to follow my heart
Whenever it calls to me
I’ve got to follow my heart
And my heart is going home
He left India, and arrived home on April 12. The play, and those unfinished songs, were publicly performed for the first time in 2005 as a celebration of his life and of a love that began as a small acorn over three decades earlier, when the Master himself began to learn that love is all you need.
There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. ~Vincent van Gogh, painter
Great art, like great love, is beautifully disruptive. It lightly catches your eye, intrigues you, then draws you in, swirling you into the head-over-heels, slightly obsessive delight of deeper discovery. In whatever form it takes, great art draws your attention, deeply hooks into you, and then points: look at this. See this in a different light. Experience this in a new way. And once you have experienced it, like seeing the solution to a great puzzle, you cannot forget or unsee it. Your thoughts and beliefs are realigned. You are profoundly and permanently changed by the experience.
The ‘Mended Cups’ and ‘Unbroken Cup’ artwork set is not, as some have thought, a sad comparison of a tragic set of events. Quite the opposite: it is a joyful reminder of the force for change that John Lennon was in this world. It ingeniously shines a light on the tremendous difference he made, both in many ways and to many people, by conceptually folding the key dates and symbols of his life, like a thousand paper cranes, into a ceramic Senbazuru of love and hope.Embed from Getty Images
Love is a promise; love is a souvenir, once given never forgotten, never let it disappear. ~John Lennon
A note about the dates