Charlotte Moorman was an American cellist, performance artist, and advocate for avant-garde music. Referred to as the "Jeanne d'Arc of new music", she was the founder of the Annual Avant Garde Festival of New York and a frequent collaborator with Korean artist Nam June Paik.
Following her studies at Juilliard, Moorman commenced a classical concert hall career as a cellist and joined the American Symphony Orchestra. From 1958-1963 she was also a member of Jacob Glick's Boccerini Players. However, she was soon drawn into the more experimental performance art scene of the 1960s through her roommate and friend Yoko Ono. When asked during an interview how she had become interested in the avant-garde, Moorman said that one day she had grown tired of a Kabalevsky cello piece and someone had suggested that she try playing John Cage's "26 Minutes, 1.1499 Seconds for a String Player," which, among other things, requires the performer to prepare and eat mushrooms.
She befriended and later performed with many well-known artists of the late 20th century, including Paik, John Cage, Wolf Vostell, Joseph Beuys, Joseph Byrd, Carolee Schneemann, and Jim McWilliams. This led to her loose involvement with the Fluxus movement of avant-garde performance artists. She later worked closely with many of its protagonists to interpret enigmatic scores written in the open-ended spirit of Fluxus.
In 1966, Beuys, then-associated with Fluxus, created his work Infiltration Homogen für Cello, a felt-covered violoncello, in her honor. However, Moorman, like numerous other female artists including her close friend, Schneemann, was "blacklisted" by Fluxus-organizer George Maciunas for reasons that remain unclear.
In 1963 Moorman founded the Annual Avant Garde Festival of New York, which presented the experimental music of the Fluxus group and Happenings alongside performance, kinetic art, and video art. Despite the event's title the festival was not held annually. There were fifteen festivals from 1963 to 1980. In addition, the festivals were often organized at unique locations such as Shea Stadium, Grand Central Station, the World Trade Center, and the Staten Island Ferry.
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.
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, or the brightly colored inflatable sculptures of Otto Piene.
At the Second Avant Garde Festival, Moorman convinced Karlheinz Stockhausen to restage his performance piece, Originale, using his original collaborator Nam June Paik. This meeting began the decades-long collaboration between Moorman and Paik in which they fused sculpture, performance, music and art. In addition, Paik created many works specifically for Moorman, including TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969) and TV-Cello (1971).
On February 9, 1967, Moorman achieved widespread notoriety for her performance of Paik's Opera Sextronique at the Film-Makers Cinematheque in New York City. For this performance, Moorman was to perform movements on the cello in various states of nudity. In the program for the performance, Paik wrote: "The purge of sex under the excuse of being 'serious' exactly undermines the so-called 'seriousness' of music as a classical art, ranking with literature and painting." During the first movement, Moorman played Elegy by the French composer Jules Massenet in the dark while wearing a bikini that had blinking lights.
For the second movement, she played International Lullaby by Max Mathews while wearing a black skirt, but while being topless, and was arrested mid-performance by three plainclothes police officers. She was not able to return to perform the last two movements of the work. As a result of Opera Sextronique, Moorman was charged with indecent exposure, though her penalty was later suspended, and gained nationwide fame as the "topless cellist." She was also fired from the American Symphony Orchestra. For her court trial, Moorman and Paik restaged and filmed the first two movements of Opera Sextronique with the filmmaker Jud Yalkut, though the film was not permitted to be shown in court.
For the 9th Annual New York Avant Garde Festival in 1972, Moorman performed Jim McWilliam’s A Water Cello for Charlotte Moorman at South Street Seaport, New York City.
Other collaborations with Paik focused more on humanizing technology and less on sexualizing music. For example, works like TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969), in which two small television sets were attached to Moorman's naked breasts while she played cello.
Following Moorman's death, Paik made a film entitled Topless Cellist (1995) about Moorman's life and avant-garde performances.
Nam June Paik was a Korean American artist. He worked with a variety of media and is considered to be the founder of video art. He is credited with an early usage of the term "electronic super highway" in application to telecommunications.
Nam June Paik then began participating in the Neo-Dada art movement, known as Fluxus, which was inspired by the composer John Cage and his use of everyday sounds and noises in his music. He made his big debut in 1963 at an exhibition known as Exposition of Music-Electronic Television at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal in which he scattered televisions everywhere and used magnets to alter or distort their images. In a 1960 piano performance in Cologne, he played Chopin, threw himself on the piano and rushed into the audience, attacking Cage and pianist David Tudor by cutting their clothes with scissors and dumping shampoo on their heads.
Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) is a nonprofit arts organization that is a leading international resource for video and media art. A pioneering advocate of media art and artists since 1971, EAI's core program is the distribution and preservation of a major collection of over 3,500 new and historical video works by artists. For 40 years, EAI has fostered the creation, exhibition, distribution and preservation of video art, and more recently, digital art projects.
EAI supports artists through the distribution, preservation, exhibition and representation of their media artworks, and works closely with educators, curators, programmers and collectors to facilitate exhibitions, acquisitions and educational uses of media artworks. EAI provides access to video art within an educational and cultural framework.
In 1973, the Artists' Videotape Distribution Service was founded to answer a need for a new paradigm for the dissemination of artists' video works, apart from the conventional gallery system. Many artists of that time were drawn to the utopian notion of a medium that was easily reproducible and therefore democratic and widely accessible. Videotapes were distributed in unlimited editions at relatively low prices. Created around a core of seminal video artists, including Peter Campus, Juan Downey, and Nam June Paik, this service remains the oldest existing distributor of artists' video. In 1986, the EAI Preservation Program began as a way to facilitate the restoration and archiving of works in the EAI collection.