Multimedia artist Yoko Ono organized downtown Manhattan’s first loft events, the Chambers Street Loft Series, in what is now called TriBeCa (the triangle below Canal Street). This area was her home base from the late 1950s until she moved in the mid-1960s into the same West Village building where Harry Koutoukas lived. Unlike more traditional venues that limited the length of individual pieces, Ono’s series had no such limitations, which helped change the course of modern composition by opening up new possibilities that were free from temporal constraints. The wide-open spaces in Ono’s industrial loft also created interesting spatial opportunities for the artists who participated in the Chambers Street Loft Series. John Cage and pianist David Tudor attended the first performance on a snowy day in December 1960—along with Dadaists Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp, a kind of avant-garde passing of the torch. “I met John Cage towards the end of the fifties through Stefan Wolpe,” Ono recalled. “What Cage gave me was confidence, that the direction I was going in was not crazy. It was accepted in the world called the avant-garde. . . . It was a great feeling to know that there was a whole school of artists and musicians who gathered in New York at the time, who were each in his or her own way revolutionary.” This was an epiphany, for Ono had spent much of her life up to that point feeling as though she didn’t belong. She studied philosophy at Gakushuin University in Tokyo and, later, composition at Sarah Lawrence College, but found both educational experiences constraining, so she forged her own path in downtown New York.
From Chapter 8 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore