The many faces of John Lennon

John Lennon was many things to many people: the “working-class hero” of his hit song; a musical genius; an apostle of peace in an era of war; a genuine artist drawn to the new and avant-garde.

Most famously, he was the visionary, song-writing soul of The Beatles.

A thoughtful and thought-provoking exhibition, just opened in Paris, explores all of these facets, reconstructing the life of the ex-Beatle through a labyrinth of installations composed of artefacts from his public and private lives.

John Lennon: Unfinished Music, at the Cite de la Musique until the end of June 2006, coincides with two milestone dates: the 65th anniversary of Lennon’s birth in working-class Liverpool and the 25th anniversary of his murder at the edge of New York’s Central Park.

“The idea was to not just present the musician, but to evoke an ambiance, an era, a history,” explains Grazia Quaroni, a co-curator of the exhibit, the third in a series dedicated to rock icons. The other two focused on Jimi Hendrix and the British band Pink Floyd.

The exhibit is composed of 13 thematic and chronological scenes.

The basement portion focuses on Lennon’s childhood and his short but spectacular career as a Beatle, while upstairs one plunges into his passion for contemporary art and his collaboration—in life and in art—with Yoko Ono.

Much is intimate here, thanks to a large number of personal artefacts lent by Ono, who became the self-appointed guardian of the Lennon temple after his death on December 9 1980.

His ex-partner, an artist of Japanese origin, was on hand last week for the exhibit’s opening.

One delicious morsel from Lennon’s school days points to the sarcastic and surrealistic dimension that would underlay much of his work: a teacher’s evaluation attributing Lennon’s bad grades the fact that he was always daydreaming and making up “spiritual remarks”.

There are also manuscripts of his songs (In My Life and Working-Class Hero among them), the piano on which he composed much of the music for the Double Fantasy album, and the brocade costume he wore while singing All You Need Is Love live on the BBC in 1967.

Hardcore fans will delight in the reconstructed sound-control room from the studio that produced the legendary Abbey Road album, built from drawings furnished by the former head of the EMI record label.

The exhibit does justice to The Beatles, but also amply tracks Lennon’s personal odyssey, both artistic and ideological, after he joined forces with Ono in 1966.

There are reproductions of works from the avant-garde Fluxus movement, a room devoted to the 1971 Imagine album, and reminders of his fervent anti-war activities in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The visitor is, not surprisingly, surrounded by music throughout, except at the end: showing in a loop in the last, all-white room of the exhibit is the Raymond Depardon short film Ten Minutes of Silence for John Lennon.—Sapa-AFP

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