Charlotte Moorman

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Madeline Charlotte Moorman Garside (November 18, 1933–November 8, 1991) was an American cellist and performance artist.


Charlotte Moorman was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. She studied cello from age ten, graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951, and won a scholarship to Centenary College (Shreveport, Louisiana) where she took her B.A. in music in 1955. She received her M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and continued on to postgraduate studies at The Juilliard School in 1957.[1]

She began a traditional concert hall career 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, and was a regular interpreter of experimental composers, including John Cage, Edgar Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen. 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 1982 (except for the years 1970, 1976 and 1979). For the Second Avant Garde Festival, Moorman convinced Stockhausen to allow a New York restaging of his performance piece, Originale, on the condition that Paik would reprise his role.[2] This meeting began the decades-long collaboration between Moorman and Paik. Paik created many works specifically for Moorman, including TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969) and TV-Cello (1971), and the two performed and toured internationally for many years.[2]

Moorman was a friend and associate of many well-known artists of the late twentieth century, including Paik, Cage, Wolf Vostell, Joseph Beuys, Joseph Byrd, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, Jim McWilliams and others. She was involved with the Fluxus movement of avant-garde and performance art, working closely with many of its protagonists, including Paik and Ono, and interpreting enigmatic scores written in the open-ended spirit of Fluxus.[3] In 1966, Beuys, then-associated with Fluxus, created his work Infiltration Homogen für Cello, a felt-covered violoncello, in her honor.[4] However, Moorman, like numerous other female artists including her close friend, Schneemann, was "blacklisted" by Fluxus-organizer George Maciunas for reasons that remain unclear.[5] (Following Moorman's untimely death, Schneeman created an online memorial page for her friend.)

In 1967, Moorman 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."[6] Following this incident, her collaborations with Paik focused more on humanizing technology, and less on sexualizing music, as in works like TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969), for which two small television receivers were attached to her breasts while she played cello.[7]

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.[8] Friend and artist Jim McWilliams' created numerous memorable pieces for her to perform at the New York Avant Garde Festivals, including Sky Kiss which involved her hanging suspended from helium-filled weather balloons for the Sixth Avant Garde Festival, and The Intravenous Feeding of Charlotte Moorman for the 1973 edition.[9] or the brightly colored inflatable sculptures of Otto Piene.

In the late 1970s she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy and further treatment, to continue performing through the 1980s in spite of pain and deteriorating health. She died of cancer in New York City on November 8, 1991, aged 57.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glenn, Collins (November 9, 1991). "Charlotte Moorman, 58, Is Dead; A Cellist in Avant-Garde Works". New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Piekut, Benjamin (2011). Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits. University of California Press. p. 140. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ O'Dell, Kathy (Spring 1997). "Fluxus Feminus". TDR 41 (1): 44. Retrieved 2/1/2013. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Walker Art Center. "TV Bra for Living Sculpture". 
  7. ^ Kaldor Public Art Projects. "Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik". 
  8. ^ McWilliams, Jim. "The Intravenous Feeding of Charlotte Moorman (A Deep Sea Event for Cerise Cello)- Press Release". Electronic Arts Intermix. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  9. ^ Collins, Glenn. "Charlotte Moorman, 58, Is Dead; A Cellist in Avant-Garde Works". 

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