The world has changed a lot since 2007. A reality TV star is now President of the United States. People find hookups by swiping right. About three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone, and there’s an app for everything.
One thing that’s remained the same is Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. A gift of the artist in 2007, the tree is turning ten years old this September.
Like much of Ono’s work, the Japanese Dogwood tree is an interactive exhibit. During the summer, guests of the museum are encouraged to write wishes on paper tags and tie them to the tree branches, located in the sculpture garden. In cold weather months, guests should “whisper” their wishes to the tree.
The D.C. tree is part of a series of Ono’s wish trees, which are also located in places like New York City, St. Louis, Tokyo, and Venice.
According to the Hirshhorn website, nearly 80,000 wishes have been collected in the past decade. Once the tree fills up, the wishes are shipped over to Iceland and buried under the Imagine Peace Tower, a public art memorial to Ono’s deceased husband, John Lennon.
Ono has said about the trees:
“As a child in Japan, I used to go to a temple and write out a wish on a piece of thin paper and tie it around the branch of a tree. Trees in temple courtyards were always filled with people’s wish knots, which looked like white flowers blossoming from afar.”
In honor of the D.C. tree’s tenth anniversary, Ono has two other works at the Hirshhorn called “My Mommy is Beautiful” and “Sky TV for Washington, DC”.
“My Mommy is Beautiful” is a wall lined with love notes to mothers. Museum guests can write something about their mother on a card and tape it to a forty-foot wall in the museum’s lobby.
“Sky TV for Washington, D.C.” is a 24-hour live feed of the sky, conceived when Ono was once living in a windowless space.
What’s interesting about Ono’s work is that, though the concepts are incredibly simple, her work packs an emotional wallop.
It’s surprising how moving her art is in person, particularly when standing under the “Wish Tree” when the wind rustles the wishes. The fluttering white tags are reminiscent of flapping doves’ wings.
Despite all the changes in the world since 2007, most wishes hanging from the tree are timeless, and broadly about peace.
But a few were personal, mentioning things like wanting to “be a princess,” getting good grades, and Superbowl picks.
There was even a wish for good traffic back to Virginia. In reference to that wish, a little boy visiting the tree said to his guardian, “that’s not really what you’re supposed to put.”
To which his guardian replied, “It takes all kinds.”
The Hirshhorn Musuem and Sculpture Garden is part of the Smithsonian network of museums, which means (among other things) that it’s free of charge. The museum opened in 1974, after art collector and philanthropist Joseph H. Hirshhorn donated his collection to the Smithsonian.
The museum, in general, does not bombard the viewer with sensory overload. Thoughtfully curated, its collection is minimally displayed. Visitors can fully cover both the museum and sculpture garden in a few hours.
The Hirshhorn is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Address: 700 Independence Ave SW, Washington, D.C. 20024