Friday, September 27, 2013

Charlotte Moorman

Famously described by composer Edgar Varese as "the Jeanne d'Arc of new music", Charlotte Moorman was a central figure of the New York avant garde of the 1960s and'70s. Both as a performer of new music and an organizer of exhibitions, she became one of the iconic figures of the period.

Charlotte Moorman was born in 1933 in Little Rock, Arkansas. She began a traditional concert hall career (she studied classical cello at Julliard and was for several years a member of American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski) but was soon drawn into the active mixed-media performance art scene of the 1960s. She became a close associate and collaborator of Korean avant-garde artist Nam June Paik, with whom she toured widely.

Nam June Paik / Charlotte Moorman - TV Bra for Living Sculpture.
In this piece Charlotte wore a bra with small TV screens over her breasts.

In 1963 she established the New York Avant Garde Festival which played annually in various locations including Central Park and the Staten Island Ferry until 1980 (except for the years 1970, 1976 and 1979).


It was at the second of these, in 1964, that she met and first collaborated with Nam June Paik, and their partnership was to last until Moorman's death in 1991. In 1967 she achieved notoriety for her performance of Paik's Opera Sextronique, a seminude performance which resulted in her arrest on charges of indecent exposure; she was given a suspended sentence. The incident gave her nationwide fame as the "topless cellist."

Paik created some of his best-known pieces for her, including TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969), TV-Cello (1971)with two small television receivers attached to her breasts, Charlotte Moorman with Human Cello and she was featured in many of his classic performances and videotapes, including Global Groove (1973).

Charlotte Moorman with Human Cello.
In this piece Paik would hold a cello string behind his bare back and Moorman would play cello on the human body.

Charlotte Moorman performs with Paik's TV cello

Charlotte Moorman as well as being a star performer of avant-garde pieces, she was an effective spokesperson and negotiator for advanced art, charming the bureaucracies of New York and other major cities into co-operating and providing facilities for controversial and challenging performances. The years of the Avant Garde Festival marked a period of unparalleled understanding and good relations between advanced artists and local authorities.

 Cut pieces by Yoko Ono
Charlotte Moorman performed this version of Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece" at the ORF Television Studios in Linz, Austria, for the Sky Art Conference/Ars Electronica in 1982. This is one of a series of performances by Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik that took place for this event.

Charlotte Moorman was involved with the Fluxus movement of avant-garde and performance art and was a friend and associate of many well-known artists of the late twentieth century, including Wolf Vostell, John Cage, Joseph Byrd, Yoko Ono, Jim McWilliams and others. In 1966 artist Joseph Beuys created his work Infiltration Homogen für Cello, a felt-covered violoncello, in her honor.

The Joseph Beuys felt-covered cello

Another memorable piece was her performance of Jim McWilliams' Sky Kiss in many locations including New York and Sydney, Australia, which involved her hanging suspended from helium-filled weather balloons or the brightly colored inflatable sculptures of Otto Piene.

Sky Kiss. Otto Piene brought Charlotte Moorman to the Sky Art Conference/Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria in 1982 to perform "Sky Kiss". With the assistance of many volunteers, an array of helium-filled tubes was gathered together, and Charlotte and her cello were lifted off the ground in the vicinity of the Danube River. The video begins with an interviewof Charlotte on the roof top of her New York studio in 1982, just prior to the performance in Austria. 

Body artist Carolee Schneemann maintains a memorial page for Moorman on the Web.


Charlotte Moorman (1933-1991)

WBAI-FM "Avant Garde Concert III"

Originally broadcast December 12 & 17, 1964. A Recording of the Annual Avant Garde Festival Program of August 30, 1964. 

From an original announcement card: Avant Garde Concert III. Third in a series of concerts recorded by WBAI this fall at Judson Hall. Cellist Charlotte Moorman is assisted by pianist Nam June Paik and soprano saxophonist Terry Jennings. In the Cage opus she utilizes not only her cello but additional whistles, chains, balloons (for breaking), etc. with recorded supplements such as the Queen Mary's departure blast and sounds from Big Ben. In Stockhausen's 'Plus-Minus', Miss Moorman is assisted by a full-size robot named Robot Opera, built by Nam June Paik.

Charlotte Moorman interviewed by Harvey Matusow

Interviewed at BBC New York Studios, NYC October 1969.
Subject: Avant Garde Arts in NY

7. Part 1

8. Part 2



Charlotte Moorman performance: TV Cello with Nam June Paik (Reflection Press)

11. TV Cello with Nam June Paik: Part 1

12. TTV Cello with Nam June Paik: Part 2


Concert for TV Cello and Videotapes, Nam June Paik with Charlotte Moorman, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 9/82
Performed by Charlotte Moorman with Paul Garrin.

13. Concert for TV Cello and Videotapes: Part 1

14. Concert for TV Cello and Videotapes: Part 2

15. Concert for TV Cello and Videotapes: Part 3


The Long Hot Summer by Jackson Mac Low
From the 3rd Annual Avant Garde Festival of New York, Judson Hall 1966. Performers included Yoko Ono and Takehisa Kosugi, amongst others.

16. The Long Hot Summer


Waiting for Commercial by Nam June Paik
Performed by David Behrman and Charlotte Moorman

17. Waiting for Commercial

Video Bra

26'1.1499" For a String Player by John Cage
Short version from unique lacquer disc.

18. 26'1.1499" For a String Player


Charlotte Moorman Live at Mills College 3/8/74
Variations on a Theme by Saint-Saens, Nam June Paik

19. Variations on a Theme by Saint-Saens


So Langweilig Wei Moglich, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, July 25, 1966, Aachen, Germany

  • Assembly and mastering by Stephen Vitello.
    Courtesy Barbara Moore/Bound & Unbound & Andrew Gurian, © Estate of Frank Pileggi.