Yoko Onos Painting to Hammer a Nail (1961), which invites viewers to enact its title, famously sparked her love affair with John Lennon when she met and refused to allow him to participate in the work. (The show was not yet open.) Now it has gotten Amanda Mae, a guard at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), fired, and provoked a debate about interactive art.
It seems that visitors to "Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78" at SAM, where the piece is included, began nailing bits of paper – notes, business cards, advertisements – around the work. When Ono was informed about the practice, she reportedly approved and asked that the material be returned to her with the painting.
On August 20, Mae decided to begin removing the papers and organizing them, declaring her performance Yoko Ono Excavation Survey, or Y.E.S. Curator Michael Darling walked through the gallery 30 minutes into the event and ordered her to stop. The next day she arrived at the museum to learn that she had been fired.
Mae has since corresponded with Darling, arguing that she had studied Ono’s intent and was attempting to be faithful to the work. A spokesperson for the museum contacted by Stranger art critic Jen Graves commented, “I can say that this is a work of art that's hanging on the wall in our museum, and altering a work of art hanging on the wall of a museum is never really an okay thing to do.”
Since then, Jon Hendricks, a curator who works with Ono, has entered the discussion and admonished Mae for her actions. “I believe that you were wrong to do what you did,” he wrote in a letter to her, though he conceded, “I am certain that you were motivated to do your action by fine principles and good intentions.”