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.