Some artists will do anything for attention. Still vivid in the memory bank, as if deposited yesterday, is the 2010 crowd-puller called “The Artist is Present,” staged by Magdalena Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art in NY. Eight hours a day for three months, she sat staring at anyone willing to sit opposite her and stare back. A reported 1,000 exhibit goers were willing.

The latest artist seeking notice with what may fairly be called a non-art art show is Yoko Ono’s Mending Piece at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Like Abramovic’s “exhibit,” Ono’s invites visitors to participate.

In her case, this amounts to directing them to repair broken pottery fragments. Tape, twine, scissors, and glue are provided. Participants also receive directions from the artists: “Mend carefully. Think of mending the world at the same time.” The repaired crockery then becomes the show. Call it an exhibit goer’s do-it-yourself art show. Or an Abramovic variant – “The Artist is Not Present.”

Repeat performance

As newfangled as Ono’s show may sound to you, it isn’t. She did the same thing 55 years ago at the Indica Gallery, London, a known home for countercultural art. Except “Mending Piece” isn’t exactly countercultural. Fixing broken dishware is a traditional Japanese art form. The Whitechapel Gallery exhibit notes add that breakage of a plate, cup, or bowl is part of its history and should be made apparent rather than make it look new.

Ono’s stated hope of this show is that as exhibit goers busy themselves making repairs, they’ll also extend the repair idea to other things broken like a heart or mind or country. The only thing missing from “Mending Piece” then is a soundtrack playing John Lennon warbling “Imagine all the people living life in peace…”

Making peace

Playing the song at the show would be especially timely.

UDiscovermusic, a great website for music news, reports that the 50th anniversary of Lennon’s notable song is being celebrated now with the lyrics projected onto notable buildings throughout the world. The sites include the House of Parliament, the Berlin Wall, and a digital billboard in Times Square. Given all this exposure for the song, maybe why Ono chose not to play it at her show.

Is it art?

What should we make of her display? I’m not a fan of interactive art shows (more about that in a moment), but unlike Abramovic, at least Ono has a point to make.

Cameron Foote of the Whitechapel Gallery curated the show. And I have to wonder what there was to curate short of setting out the pottery fragments and fixing tools. Never mind. My bigger concern is that interactive art shows deny people the art experience. That’s when you’re left on your own, without directives to tell you what to think, as Ono instructs her audience, “Think of mending the world…”

When I think of mending the world, broken crockery doesn’t get me there. But seeing something like, say, Bill Charmatz's ink drawing "Duel" depicting a pair of antagonists shooting one another in the head is a swift kick in you know where.