You Are Here
John Lennon @ Robert Fraser Gallery
July 1 through August 3, 1968
By Madeline Bocaro
© Madeline Bocaro, 2019. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.
John Lennon’s first art exhibition, You Are Here (To Yoko From John Lennon, With Love) opened at the Robert Fraser Gallery at 69 Duke Street, London on July 1, 1968. John had just moved out of Kenwood, the home he had shared with his wife Cynthia. John and Yoko collaborated on their first public event together. They had only been together for just over a month at the time and had already made Unfinished Music No. 1 Two Virgins (the album and the film), Film No. 5: Smile and had staged their Acorn Peace event at Coventry Cathedral. They certainly hit the ground running!
At the exhibition’s opening, John released 365 white helium balloons into the sky (the same figurative number of bottoms had appeared in Yoko’s Film No. 4). As John cut the ropes to release the balloons he said, “I declare these balloons high.” John’s concept – derived from a boyhood memory of finding a similar object as a boy – was the reverse of a message in a bottle. Attached to each balloon was a blank tag – with only the name of the exhibition on it – meant for the recipients of the balloons (wherever they landed) to write a message on and return to the gallery’s address printed on each tag. Responders received a letter and badge from John in return which read, “Dear Friend, Thank you very much for writing and sending me my balloon back. I’m sending you a badge just to remind you that you are here. Love, John Lennon.” Although most responses were from well-wishers, others were insulting jabs at John and Yoko’s relationship.
A large round white canvas inscribed by John in tiny letters stated, “You Are Here.” We can guess that he got this idea from Yoko’s ‘Yes’ painting which sparked his interest at their first meeting at Indica gallery in November 1966 (with the word ‘Yes’ written in tiny letters placed on the ceiling above a ladder with a magnifying glass). Indica’s owner John Dunbar was present amidst the media frenzy at the Fraser gallery exhibition, as was underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger who popped some of the balloons with sparklers.
Other items in the exhibition were charity collection boxes raising money for the downtrodden. Hornsey Art College students send John a rusty bicycle with the note, “This exhibit was inadvertently left out.” John put it on exhibit.
“I think you could certainly say that the Robert Fraser Gallery was the driving force of the European avant-garde scene in the art world.”
– Yoko, Groovy Bob, The Life & Times of Robert Fraser, by Harriet Vyner
As with Yoko’s conceptual Museum of Modern (F)Art exhibit in 1971, hidden cameras filmed the reaction of attendees, but the intended You Are Here film was never made. The media was more interested in the John and Yoko spectacle and dismissed the art as fodder.
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Watch this cool video clip about gallery owner Robert Fraser. I just read the book about him, Groovy Bob!