It’s a Happening at NYU Grey Art Gallery

Charlotte performs a John Cage piece at a 1965 Paris art festival

Charlotte performs a John Cage piece at a 1965 Paris art festival.

In Grey Art Gallery’s gleaming white space on Washington Square East, you can take a walk-through of the gritty lofts and performance spaces of the 1960s, when the avant-garde was being born in Lower Manhattan

A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s – 1980s is a tribute to the avant-garde’s poster girl, who transformed classical cello into a spectator sport. Trained at Julliard, Moorman came under the sway of the genre-busting, performance-loving artistic collaborators Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Alan Kaprow, and others. See the show through this weekend.

The show chronicles her early collaborations with Nam June, the artist who turned early portable video on its head. The centerpiece of the first-floor gallery is Paik’s “portrait” of Moorman, studded with an electrified cello and the tiniest video monitors. It’s quite a presence. Good work, Nam June.

Charlotte Moorman II, a 1995 sculpture-portrait by Nam June Paik. Collection: Brandies

Charlotte Moorman II, a 1995 sculpture-portrait by Nam June Paik. Collection: Brandies

On the audio system, you hear her voice, recounting her night in jail as a result of a police raid on a Village art cinema where she happened to be performing her own art piece topless. Ooops!

Cage might not have been crazy about Moorman’s interpretation of his at-the-edge contemplative works (too theatrical, he thought), but that didn’t stop her.

The show also highlights her friendship and support for Yoko Ono, another up-and-comer at the time. Moorman paid Ono the highest compliment by performing her legendary piece hundreds of times.

A fearless performer, she continued throughout the Sixties and Seventies as quite a producer too. From early performances of composers’ works, staged with all-star casts (Ginsberg et al.), she ended up getting a decade’s worth of permits to host an annual Avant-Garde Festival in New York City.

1989 Neon Cello sculpture by Charlotte Moorman

1989 Neon Cello by Charlotte Moorman

Some years, it was on the Staten Island Ferry. Others, it was Wards Island. Others, it was a parade, way before the Village Halloween Parade became a family favorite.

Charlotte and Paik toured well throughout the Seventies, everywhere art-loving Germans would have them.

Take a walk through the downtown underground with a classically trained musician who made performance-art history. Here are the exhibition photos and our Flickr album.

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