By Madeline Bocaro ©
This piece first appeared in Yoko’s book of instructions, Grapefruit published in 1964:
PAINTING TO BE STEPPED ON
Leave a piece of canvas or finished
painting on the floor or in the street.
The idea for this painting stems from the Japanese FUMIE meaning stepping painting.
(From Yoko Ono at Indica catalog 1966):
“In the 15thcentury Japan, a “stepping painting” (Fumie) was used to distinguish
Christians from non-Christians.
A person was asked to step on the portrait of Christ.
Those who could not were immediately taken away to be crucified
Most Japanese Christians refused to step on the portrait, despite the consequences, which they were aware of.
As a young child, I was terrified by the story, but I also promised myself that I would be a person who adhered to her principles just as the Japanese Christians did.
Later, in New York, I felt to release myself from that little girl in me and to step on a painting.” – y.o.
Yoko placed a piece of canvas on the floor of her Chambers Street loft. There, she had initiated what would become a historic concert series in the early 1960s which drew many (now legendary) avant-garde musicians and artists of the day. She was disappointed that her guest Marcel Duchamp remained oblivious to her artwork on the floor.
The public debut of Painting To Be Stepped On was at Yoko’s very first exhibit, Paintings & Drawings by Yoko Ono at Fluxus founder George Maciuanas’ A.G. gallery in New York City in July 1961. Her then husband, composer Toshi Ichiyanagi wrote out the instruction card (the title of the painting) which was placed on the floor next to the canvas.
The reason for the small, odd shaped piece of loose canvas was that it was a leftover scrap piece. Yoko did not have enough money at the time to buy another piece of canvas. This odd shape was retained at many of her future exhibits – quite possibly the actual original piece!
It was shown again in Tokyo at Sogetsu Art Center on May 24, 1962 at the Instructions for Paintings exhibition when Yoko moved back to Japan. (Her original instruction cards which became Grapefruitwere also on display there). She would move back to New York again in 1964.
Painting to be Stepped On was included at Yoko’s Unfinished Paintings exhibition (November 1966) at Indica gallery in London, where she met John Lennon on the night before the opening. Months later, in the basement of John’s home Kenwood, a short film shows Yoko stepping on her canvas on the floor. John jokingly remarks, “No respect for art, eh?!”
This very important piece has been exhibited in most of Yoko’s exhibitions/retrospectives over the years. A bronze cast version with imprinted footsteps was made for her 1988/1989 worldwide exhibitions.
For her 70th birthday party at Mr. Chow’s, the dance floor was a big canvas on which Yoko and her guests danced all evening.
At the premier of Yoko Ono – One Woman Show at MoMA in New York City on May 14, 2015, I walked through the exhibition behind Yoko. I was curious as to what she would do when she passed by Painting to be Stepped On. Curiously, she walked around it! (She remembered Isamu Noguchi stepping on the original painting at her Chamber’s Street loft in 1961 with a pair of elegant Zohri slippers!) – m.b.