The Museum der Moderne Salzburg is the only European venue of this extensive exhibition about the work and influence of the US-American musician and performance artist Charlotte Moorman. The first comprehensive tribute to Moorman’s art and her role as ambassador of the avant-garde, it reveals the artist in a fascinating new light.
The Museum der Moderne Salzburg is devoting level at Mönchsberg to the exhibition A Feast of Astonishments. Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s, voted one of the best exhibitions of 2016 by the New York Times. It includes work from a wide variety of fields and media: music, film, performance art, audio and video installations, photography, literature, and materials from the archive of the artist, who died in 1991 in New York City. The exhibition is divided into two main themes: Moorman’s repertoire as an artist and her work as the founder and organizer of the Annual New York Avant Garde Festival. These two areas are linked by a section about her concert tours to Europe and their influence.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1933, Charlotte Moorman first came to New York to pursue a classical training as a cellist at the famous Juilliard School, but soon turned to experimental music. The composer Edgard Varèse even dubbed her the “Joan of Arc of New Music”. Moorman organized numerous concerts for contemporary musicians, among them Joseph Byrd, La Monte Young, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and Yoko Ono. However, her involvement in radical new forms of art was not confined to music. She furthermore worked with Allan Kaprow, Otto Piene, Carolee Schneemann, Yvonne Rainer, and Joseph Beuys.
Moorman’s fervent exploration of contemporary music, art, literature, dance, and innovative cross-disciplinary art forms fueled her commitment to bring these to the widest possible public. To this end, between 1963 and 1980, she organized the Annual New York Avant Garde Festival on fifteen occasions. From 1966, this legendary festival brought together the world’s avant-garde artists at public spaces in New York, including Central Park (1966), Staten Island Ferry (1967), and Grand Central Terminal (1973). At the same time, Moorman developed her own highly personal repertoire of musical pieces, which she repeatedly performed. These included works by John Cage, Giuseppe Chiari, Philip Corner, Jim McWilliams, Yoko Ono, and Nam June Paik. Her work also took her to Europe: In 1965, she participated in the 24 Hours Happening in Wuppertal; in 1973 she took part in the Bochum Kunstwoche (art week), and in 1982 she contributed to the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz. “Moorman not only made an outstanding contribution to the New York avant-garde in the 1960s and 1970s, but she also forged ties between the American and European art scenes. The documentations of her performances in Linz and Wuppertal constitute Austrian and German TV history,” says Sabine Breitwieser, Director of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg.
In 1967, her partially nude performance of Nam June Paik’s Opera Sextronique in New York led to her arrest and conviction on indecency charges. As a consequence, Charlotte Moorman became publicly known as the “topless cellist,” which dominated her image thereafter—a situation this exhibition now aims to amend. Nam June Paik and Moorman collaborated on further pieces that are closely associated with her name, as they were created exclusively for Charlotte to use and perform: The famous TV Cello (1971/1973) features in this exhibition. Her performances were staged all around the world and have been circulated in iconic images. Examples include Jim McWilliams’ Sky Kiss—Moorman plays the cello while suspended in mid-air from helium-filled balloons—and John Cage’s 26′ 1.1499” for a String Player, in which Moorman among others draws her bow across a cello string on a man’s bare back and adds other “instruments” to her repertoire, ranging from a rubber duck to a “cello bomb”.
Charlotte Moorman was an enthusiastic archivist. The exhibition draws from a wealth of materials offering glimpses of Moorman’s personal life, her connections with other artists, and her tireless efforts to promote the avant- garde. Parts of Moorman’s archive, now housed at the Northwestern University in Chicago, are shown for the first time in this exhibition.