A Feast of Astonishments:

Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s

September 8–December 10, 2016

A Feast of Astonishments:
Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s

Charlotte Moorman (1933–1991) was a groundbreaking, rule-bending artist, musician, curator, and advocate for the experimental art of her time. Although trained as a classical cellist, she performed and championed the works of visual artists, composers, and choreographers who were redefining art, collapsing the boundaries between creative media and renegotiating the relationship between artist and audience. Through both her performances and her role as producer, Moorman brought a fresh ethos to the art world—a firm commitment to making radical art accessible to all.

A Feast of Astonishments explores many facets of Moorman’s career, including her early years, the music she performed, the festivals she organized, and the sculptural cellos she created. Moorman’s repertoire featured performances devised by others, but she made them her own through interpretation, improvisation, and repeated presentation. Works by such innovative figures as John Cage, Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Jim McWilliams, and Joseph Beuys fueled her fearless and risk-taking approach as well as her enthusiastic promotion of what she called “mixed media.”

The exhibition also documents Moorman’s production of fifteen avant-garde festivals, held mostly in New York City between 1963 and 1980. A consummate and magnetic networker, Moorman engendered a strong sense of community among hundreds of artists, filmmakers, dancers, poets, musicians, and festival audiences, who were all willingly caught in “Charlotte’s web.” Over the years, these festivals migrated from traditional performance venues to public spaces, freeing artists from the constraints of concert halls and museums, and creating important precedents for future large-scale, urban art exhibitions.

Moorman’s varied activities are as difficult to categorize as the boundary-crossing art she championed. Drawing on unique holdings from the Charlotte Moorman Archive housed at Northwestern University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, A Feast of Astonishments immerses viewers in the vibrant and complex network of artistic ferment that Moorman sustained over three decades as an artist and a promoter of new art.


Starts Thursday, Sep 08, 2016
Ends Saturday, Dec 10, 2016
Curator Lisa G. Corrin, Corinne Granof, Scott Krafft, Michelle Puetz, Joan Rothfuss, and Laura Wertheim Joseph
Organized by Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University

A Feast of Astonishments is organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, in partnership with Northwestern University Libraries. The exhibition is supported by major grants from the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional generous support is provided by the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; the Alumnae of Northwestern University; the Colonel Eugene E. Myers Foundations; the Illinois Arts Council Agency; Dean of Libraries Discretionary Fund; the Charles Deering McCormick Fund for Special Collections; the Florence Walton Taylor Fund; and the Block Museum Science and Technology Endowment.

The presentation at the Grey Art Gallery is made possible in part by a grant from the New York University Arts Council. Additional support is provided by the Abby Weed Grey Trust; and the Grey’s Director’s Circle, Inter/National Council, and Friends.

The exhibition has been curated by a collaborative team: Lisa G. Corrin, Director, Block Museum; Corinne Granof, Curator of Academic Programs, Block Museum; Scott Krafft, Curator of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Libraries; Michelle Puetz, Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts, Block Museum; Joan Rothfuss, consulting curator and author of Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman; and Laura Wertheim Joseph, Consulting Curatorial Associate.


Exhibition Types: Downtown