The late John Lennon, a frequent visitor to Washington during his immigration battles in the '70s, came back yesterday not as a man of words or melodies, but as a man of heartfelt squiggles and innocent/erotic lines. Lennon, the artist behind the 14-lithograph series known as "Bag One," drew a far smaller crowd than he might have as even an ex-Beatle, but the musician in him would probably have appreciated the fact that these drawings--celebrating his marriage to and sexual enjoyment with Yoko Ono--were touring the country in one-night stands booked by rock entrepreneurs.
"I like the Beatles, I like John Lennon," said "16-, well, 17"-year-old Monica Hoffman of Bowie, who came down to Georgetown's Govinda Gallery with her mother. Monica stayed in the gallery much longer than her mother and, coming out, spoke in the ever-present tense of fans. "I think the gentleman has some good work in there. He gets a lot of feeling into his work."
John Linchner, a 28-year-old chef who bought his first Beatles album at the age of 10, came to look at the full-sized originals previously seen only as small reproductions in books. What he found were drawings whose intense amateurism was often excused by a celebratory warmth of spirit; the eroticism that "shocked" the constabulary in Providence, R.I., last week was curiously mild, sensual more than sexual, the act of sex as a sharing experience. Marla Brix, circulation director for three Ralph Nader publications, was "amused at the stir." Several local radio stations withdrew their sponsorship of the exhibit following its closure in Providence.
"I've been in love with Yoko since the age of 5, when I saw the cover of 'Two Virgins' at my cousin's house," Brix explained. "Anyplace I can see her, I go." Some visitors, a bit disgruntled at the $3.25 admission price, wondered about Ono's involvement in the show; she had none. The lithographs belong to Seattle collector Steve McDowell and Ken Kinnear, who manages Heart. A free Seattle exhibition of a lithograph set belonging to Heart's lead singer, Ann Wilson, drew 7,000 people. Shades of "Beatlemania": there currently are three other sets of lithographs (valued at $50,000 to $70,000 each) touring the country. Two individual lithographs belonging to Washington collectors were available at Govinda for $2,500 and $3,500, respectively, but the day's only sales were a Chris Makos close-up of Lennon and Liza Minnelli looking like odd Siamese twins. Makos, whom Warhol has called "the most modern photographer in America," sold three prints for $450 each.
Among the exhibit's visitors was Duncan Phillips, whose grandfather founded the Phillips Collection and who laughed gently at the suggestion that such an exhibit might someday find its way into the staid Northwest gallery: "I doubt it!" Like most of the day's visitors, Phillips walked through the Govinda quietly, his thoughts very much to himself, appreciating the limitations of the art and the unbounded qualities of the artist. They came out of curiosity, or out of love, or out of respect, and left with whatever they wanted to take home as a new memory to keep the old ones company.