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A toast to Yoko Ono and her art

October 05, 2003|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

The hotel ballroom hummed with the chatter of a thousand socialites, dressed in crisply tailored suits and clutching bulky Hermes bags. As a handful of celebrities wandered in (Dennis Hopper, Megan Mullally, Nastassja Kinski, Rosanna Arquette), the ladies suspended their talk of summers in Europe, upcoming winter getaways to Palm Springs and this season's whirlwind of galas and fund-raisers to note the quiet presence of the afternoon's guest of honor: Yoko Ono.

Ono, her slight frame appearing even more slender in all black and a large white newsboy cap, slipped into the dining room with longtime friend David Geffen in tow. Her son, Sean Lennon, wearing the same style of wire-rimmed glasses his father made famous, reluctantly spoke with the press, offering tongue-in-cheek responses. "I'm just here to get some food and see my mom," he said. After speaking with an "Entertainment Tonight" reporter, Lennon confessed, "I said I was working on a 300-foot ice sculpture in my backyard. And he believed me!"

The Sept. 25 luncheon at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, an annual fund-raiser for MOCA, was held to present Ono the museum's Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts. It was sponsored by the fashion house Celine, which hosted a mod-inspired show of Michael Kors' collection after the ceremony.

As the crowd settled in to lunch (the latest wrinkle cure: salmon), MOCA's chief curator Paul Schimmel waxed poetic. "Like a pebble being dropped in the water, the reverberations [of Ono's work] go on for years and generations," he said.

Ono, 70, has been busy of late. She's got a New York show, "The Odyssey of a Cockroach," opening next month, as well as "A Freight Train" in Detroit and "Imagine" in Venice, Italy. This fall, she'll release a new album, with another expected early next year.

Last month in Paris, Ono reenacted her famous 1964 performance "Cut," in which audience members were invited to cut off pieces of her clothing. Although the original was, she said, inspired by "a certain anger toward society and how women are treated," the Paris show had a different motivation. "I did it out of love this time," she said in an interview after the luncheon.

Geffen introduced Ono by recalling (inexplicably) "the single worst day of Yoko's life," when John Lennon was shot to death by an obsessed fan. Finally, Ono appeared, her face barely reaching the microphone. She told the audience that Los Angeles was a special place for her in childhood. Her mother, she said, often retold the story of spotting Tyrone Power in a flashy sports car in Beverly Hills. When World War II broke out and her family returned to Japan, Ono said, she defended the United States when Japanese friends criticized Americans.

"In a way, I was always put in a position of bridging things," she said. "East and West. Men and women. Classic music and rock and roll. It helped me acquire a certain wisdom." Nevertheless, she added, "it seems like I have so much to learn -- still."

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