Editor-At-Large: Give Yoko a chance (and someone get Jack Nicholson off the Viagra)

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The Independent Online

It was the meeting that never happened: Yoko Ono and Cecil Beaton. Now, on opposite sides of London, the work of these two very different artists is on show to tremendous acclaim. Mr Beaton, possibly Britain's greatest snob ever, dominates the National Portrait Gallery with his glamorous photographs - from Nancy Cunard and the Sitwells in the 1920s to Andy Warhol and his crew at the Factory 40 years later. Mr Beaton photographed the Rolling Stones and liked to hang out with Mick, but curiously for a man who so assiduously courted simply everyone who was anyone, he never bothered to meet one of the most iconic couples of that era, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Perhaps he was frightened that he might have to take his clothes off and be part of a "happening". Perhaps Yoko did not conform to his ideal of female beauty. Nevertheless, I can't help feeling that Yoko versus Cecil Beaton would have been one of the great dinner party confrontations of all time. Sadly, Mr B died in 1980, and having read his diaries, with their endless moaning about his hostesses' catering or their appalling decor, I think it was probably good that he and Yoko never shared a chicken teriyaki.

The best way to understand the genius of Cecil Beaton is to go to this show and drink in the timeless elegance of his work, rather than read his opinions. As a portraitist, rather than a social commentator, he was brilliant. Even so, after an hour I longed for some rough-and-ready imagery of Ozzy Osbourne or Marilyn Manson rather than another limpid young man in a white shirt.

Yoko has managed to remain effortlessly enigmatic, as weird and impenetrable as she was the first time I saw her with John on the staircase of the Revolution Club in Mayfair on 12 August 1968. The occasion was an Ossie Clark fashion show, and afterwards there was a party at which Ike and Tina Turner played. But that night, all eyes were on John and his new bird. Bear in mind that most women present (myself included) were 6ft skeletons with frocks barely covering our backsides, white lipstick, and sooty black eye make-up. Who on earth was this stocky Japanese woman, with long limp black hair and a dead-pan expression. She was at least 30, older than her new beau. We were outraged!

Already an avant-garde artist of some repute, Yoko had staged a happening at the Technicolour Dream all-night rave at Alexandra Palace the year before, in which passers-by were invited to cut her clothes off. I was there, and it wasn't a pretty sight. John Lennon, however, was impressed enough to put up the money for a show of her work the following October. In 1971, she and John moved to New York, and since then Yoko has certainly attracted her share of fear and loathing, from Lennon fans who demonise her influence on their hero, to Beatles aficionados who resent the way she guards the Lennon myth. Even Paul McCartney has been at pains to reverse the writing credits on some of the most famous songs he composed with John, fuelling the rumour machine even more.

It is easy to forget that Yoko is an astonishing 70 years old. Unlike Beaton, she has not kept and published diaries chronicling her health, her loneliness and her artistic goals. She has remained an intensely private person, hidden behind dark glasses, holed up in the same flat in the Dakota that she and Lennon shared. But Yoko is a true revolutionary in her own mad way, one of the trail-blazers for the kind of conceptual art now so promoted by Tate supremo Sir Nicholas Serota. She might consult soothsayers and keep apartments full of fur coats, but this fearless woman has created work which was open to ridicule before most of today's BritArt mob were even born. She's made films, written music, and created events, and her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford in 1997 was a timely reminder that John climbed on her bandwagon and not vice versa. At a talk at the Institute of Contemporary Arts last week she astounded the audience by standing up and screaming her head off - an impromptu "event".

Now her huge installation "Odyssey of a Cockroach" has come to London from New York, and confirms that she can still cut the mustard. OK, giant dustbins, shoes and chairs coupled with bloodstains on the floor all sounds corny and obvious, but somehow this view of the world from ground level is still interesting and original. At the opening, Yoko herself appeared to still have the body of an 18-year-old, dressed in a short jacket topped with a groovy haircut and a flat hat. And if she's still asking us to "give peace a chance" by handing out rubber stamps to emblazon "Imagine Peace" across a statement by Hitler's right-hand man, Hermann Goering, then isn't this the perfect time and place for such a sentiment? Perhaps Messrs Hoon and Blair will consider a trip to the ICA's temporary exhibition space in Wharf Road, London N1, to make their own contributions.

Last year, incredibly, Yoko was No 1 in the Billboard Dance chart in the US with a remix of her 1981 hit "Walking on Thin Ice". Like Mr Beaton, Yoko is not an especially likeable person, but by God this woman is an artist for the 21st century. And as for Mr B, his talents were firmly rooted in the past, with all its caste systems and its precise code of manners. Yoko is something else.

Rotten luck, Johnny

And so I have lost my £10 bet on Mr Lydon winning I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here Now! What new career will beckon to the prince of the C word, a man who still managed to shock the 11 million-plus viewers slumbering through Lord Brocket's witterings and Jordan's inflatables? There is one job currently vacant for which the charismatic Mr Lydon would be perfect - director-general of the BBC. And once you've eaten maggots in the jungle and been pecked by an ostrich or two, I imagine a couple of hours being interviewed by a lacklustre and self-righteous board of governors would be a doddle.

Am I the only woman who finds the idea of Jack Nicholson taking Viagra revolting? Even worse, the notion of getting into bed with someone shaped like him, Viagra-assisted or not, is quite unsettling. Why is it that some elderly men feel the urgent need to let us women know they can still perform when the occasion demands? A few years ago I was dining with Vidal Sassoon and his second wife when he started to tell me how great life was when you had a ready supply of this fabulous aid. I made my excuses and left. Rest assured, there will be no bulletins forthcoming on my sex life, and whether it requires chemical aids.

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