Imagine: The Peace Ballad of John & Yoko, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous Bed-in, held from May 26 to June 2 in Suite 1742 of Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel, made headlines around the world. Forty years later, from April 2 to June 21, 2009, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is celebrating this legendary event with Imagine: The Peace Ballad of John & Yoko, a multidisciplinary exhibition, designed and mounted by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts under the direction of Nathalie Bondil, and organized in close collaboration with Yoko Ono, who will be honoured at this year’s Venice Biennale.

The exhibition is presented exclusively in Montreal. Rekindling the philosophy behind John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s commitment for today’s world, this comprehensive exhibition provides a picture of the historical and political context in 1969 that formed the backdrop to the Bed-in, as well as explore the wide-ranging artistic and musical dialogue in the name of peace conducted by the pop icon and the conceptual artist with ties to the Fluxus group. In order to enable the widest possible public to understand, be moved by and perpetuate this still-topical peace message, admission to the exhibition is free at all times.

Some 140 works, drawings, unpublished photographs, videos, films, artworks and interactive materials convey the famous couple’s message of universal peace. Furthermore, visitors will be able to play “Imagine” on a white piano with a Disklavier sound system, write down their wishes and tie them to Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree, stamp “Imagine Peace” on maps of the world, read the works of certain Nobel Peace Prize winners in the Peace Library, play chess with Play It by Trust and, once a day at an unspecified time, speak on the phone with Yoko Ono.

Just as in the exhibition Warhol Live, sound, at once an emotional and educational conduit, occupies a privileged position within this exhibition. This soundscape closely reflects the entire thrust of the exhibition. From one gallery to another, John and Yoko whisper, murmur, speak, sing, shout, call each other and, most of all, remind us that they often acted as one. For the first time ever, it will be possible to hear little known excerpts of conversations between the two artists during the recording of songs like “Give Peace a Chance” (three different versions were recorded), as well as media interviews, video excerpts from the 1960s for such anthems as “Power to the People” and “I Dont Wanna Be a Soldier.” The soundscape also corresponds to the record covers, which are at once artistic and autobiographical statements.

“The Museum is offering a spring of peace,” explains Nathalie Bondil. “Thanks to the participation of Yoko Ono, this exhibition, while commemorating the1969 Bed-in, which took place in Montreal, renews their pacifist action in the present, an action made all the more relevant given the current state of the world. In solidarity, an incredible number of businesses, suppliers and partners have decided to support this project by offering their services for free, so as to spread this universal message, which, it goes without saying, extends beyond the walls of this institution. I am very touched to report that this inclusive and collaborative approach is gathering great momentum, transforming this event into a collective Montreal work and a socially engaged action, with all of us rallying around the same philosophy.”

Made possible through Yoko Ono’s loan of many exceptional works, the exhibition retraces the story of these two major figures, from their meeting in 1966 to their first creations promoting peace, which culminated in the May 1969 Bed-in during which “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded. It examines the legacy of such anthemic songs as 1971’s “Imagine” and “Power to the People,” as well as the politically engaged 1972 album Some Time in New York City.