Artist Yoko Ono's career has spanned more than five decades and the Museum of Modern Art is celebrating her achievements with an exhibition of her early works, showing how her ideas influenced the development of art in New York in the 1960s.

Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971, which runs from 17 May until 7 September, includes about 125 early art pieces, works on paper, films, installations, performances and audio recordings.

It shows how even in 1962 Ono thought of art as pure instruction, paintings that are described rather than realised, which predates conceptual art.

The exhibition follows the writer, peace activist and widow of Beatle John Lennon from her days as a 27-year-old organising artistic events at her New York loft to exhibitions in Tokyo, London and New York. It concludes with her unsanctioned one-woman show at MoMA in 1971 titled Museum of Modern Art.

Curator Christophe Cherix said the show was designed to let the works speak for themselves, so each piece could be understood on its own and how it is connected to the others.

"We really tried to understand what were her key contributions in the first decade of her practice. And narrowed down to the pieces we felt really the most influence today," Cherix said.

"Later in 1971 she does 'Fly' where she follows a fly on a naked body. How those two works work together? There are seven years in between, one is black and white and a performance. One is a film with a professional model and is in colour. Both are about nudity, both are about being extremely vulnerable."

The show begins with Apple, Ono's 1964 work showing a piece of fruit on a Plexiglas pedestal and includes Bag Piece, in which two guests enter a cloth bag, instruction paintings and a new work created for the exhibition called To See The Sky.

Cherix said the focus is on her early career because few people know that when she met Lennon she already was a respected artist.

He said: "We feel it has long been overshadowed. Yoko Ono is a very well-known figure, but few people know that when she met John Lennon she had 10 years behind her as an artist – and she was well-known. Not as well-known as she has become."