EAI is pleased to present an evening focused on groundbreaking performance artist Charlotte Moorman’s rarely screened performances for and with television and video. Centered around her extraordinary 1973 televisual “realization” of John Cage’s 26’1.1499” For A String Player at the WNET/Thirteen TV Lab, with collaborators Nam June Paik and Jud Yalkut, this program highlights how radically Moorman calibrated her performances for unconventional contexts, further disrupting traditional artistic hierarchies. Barbara Moore, independent scholar and close associate throughout Moorman's professional career, will be in conversation following the screening.
This program is organized in conjunction with the exhibition A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant Garde, 1960s-1980s, on view at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery through December 10, 2016.
26’1.1499” For A String Player (composed by Cage in 1955) was a signature performance for Moorman, a classically-trained cellist. Combining the rigor of her musical background with the catalytic influence of Cage’s interest in indeterminacy and non-musical sounds, Moorman performed this challenging score in many different configurations over her career. In 1964, one year after her debut performance of 26’1.1499” at the 1963 Annual New York Avant Garde Festival (which she established and led until 1980), Moorman would begin collaborating with Nam June Paik, who introduced other unexpected dimensions to her approach to music.
With Paik, television became an increasingly prominent framework for Moorman’s performance persona, both as a setting – it was the antithesis of the concert hall – and as a new instrument or prop that offered provocative visual and aural cues. Television also provided a bridge between art and life, and for Moorman, an ardent promoter and producer of the avant-garde, a conduit through which to reach new audiences. In a series of prominent television appearances, Moorman performed segments from 26’1.1499,” accumulating more outlandish non-musical instruments, such as bombs and helium balloons, along the way. Despite the obvious set-up of her performance as high-brow art in a low-brow context, Moorman patiently explained Cage’s concepts to a bemused Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, and gamely incorporated Jerry Lewis, who crouched down while a poised Moorman played him like a cello, on The Merv Griffin Show.
In 1973, in a joint production with Paik and filmmaker Jud Yalkut, which was staged in the professional television studio of the WNET/Thirteen TV Lab, Moorman might have arrived at the most exuberant version of 26’1.1499.” Here her elaborate repertoire of non-traditional prop-instruments included a phone call to President Richard Nixon, a cap gun blast, a recitation of Wheaties ingredients, and a number of other incidents and artifacts that could have drifted over from neighboring commercials and programs. By this point, Cage had soured on Moorman’s performance of his score, testament to how decisively Moorman and Paik had made the absurd theatrics of her performance a central aspect of her interpretation. Yalkut’s vibrant video manipulations and image processing further blur the lines between television spectacle and musical performance that Moorman and Paik were engaging, to arrive at a totally sui generis cultural hybrid.
Famously described by composer Edgar Varese as "the Jeanne d'Arc of new music," Charlotte Moorman (1933-1991) was a central figure of the New York avant garde during the 1960s and '70s. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, she was a classically trained cellist from the University of Texas at Austin and The Julliard School. Moorman performed with The American Symphony Orchestra in New York under Leopold Stokowski and at the Sydney Opera House. As a vanguard artist, performer, musician, and curator, Moorman championed exploratory modes of art and music. In 1963, Moorman established the Annual New York Avant Garde Festival, presenting experimental music, performance, kinetic and video art, which featured many now well-known artists, including Nam June Paik, Otto Piene, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, and Jim McWilliams. The festival, which took place at major venues across New York City, such as Central Park, Grand Central Station, Shea Stadium, the Staten Island Ferry, and the World Trade Center, among others, continued until 1982. It was at the second Avant Garde Festival, in 1964, that Moorman met and first collaborated with Nam June Paik, a partnership that was to last until her death in 1991. Paik created some of his best-known pieces for her, including TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969) and TV Cello (1971), and she featured in iconic performances and video works, including Global Groove (1973). Mainstream notoriety came to Moorman in 1967, when she was charged with indecent exposure during a performance of Paik's Opera Sextronique. This controversy led to Moorman becoming a guest on TV talk shows, giving her a place in the public's consciousness as the "Topless Cellist." Though her performances were marked by a playful delight in the absurd, this was framed at all times by a high seriousness in her approach to her music. No matter what the circumstances, she would play in the appropriate concert gown, even when hanging from a trapeze or suspended by balloons.
Moorman is the subject of the exhibition A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s-1980s, organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, in partnership with Northwestern’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. First exhibited at The Block Museum from January 16 - July 17, 2016, the exhibition is now on view at Grey Art Gallery, New York University, from September 8 - December 10, 2016. A Feast of Astonishments will travel to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria, where it will be presented from March 4 - June 18, 2017. The exhibition catalogue, edited by Lisa Graziose Corrin and Corinne Granof, was recently published by Northwestern University Press in January 2016.
Barbara Moore is an independent scholar of late 20th-century avant-garde art, such as artists’ books and performance. She has been a rare book dealer for nearly thirty years, specializing in printed manifestations of alternative mediums, and has been director for fifty-five years of the Peter Moore archive of performance photographs, chronicling the development of what came to be known as Performance Art—including Fluxus, Happenings, Judson Dance Theater, multimedia, and intermedia. Moore has written and lectured extensively on these subjects. She is currently writing a book about the archive, the history that it encompasses, and a memoir of experiencing these seminal events for the first time.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Electronic Arts Intermix
535 West 22nd Street, 5th Fl.
New York, NY 10011
Free for EAI Members