The Block Muse

Winter 2016: Public Programs and Performances

Peter Moore

A Feast of Astonishments:

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

January 16–July 17, 2016

Charlotte Moorman (1933–1991) was a groundbreaking, rule-bending artist, musician, and advocate for the experimental art of her time. Trained as a classical cellist, she both performed and championed the works of visual artists, composers, and choreographers who were redefining art—collapsing the boundaries between media, and renegotiating the relationships between artist and audience. The exhibition explores her performances, the festivals she produced, and her commitment to making experimental art accessible to all. Click here to learn more about the exhibition.

A Feast of Astonishments is organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, in partnership with Northwestern University Libraries. 


A Feast of Astonishments is accompanied by a lively menu of lectures, performances, film screenings, artist conversations, and pop-up happenings around Northwestern, Evanston, and beyond. Please scroll down for a complete schedule:


Film Screening: "Breaking the Frame"—featuring an introduction by Carolee Schneemann
Thursday, January 14, 7:00pm
Block Museum

Filmmaker Marielle Nitoslawska’s feature-length documentary Breaking the Frame is a sensitive and insightful profile of radical New York artist Carolee Schneemann. A pioneer of performance, body art, and avant-garde cinema, Schneemann has been challenging assumptions of feminism, gender, sexuality, and identity in the art world for five decades. The collaged and diaristic quality of Schneemann’s own, very personal, approach to cinema is mirrored in Nitoslawska’s intimate portrait of the artist. Carolee Schneemann will be present to introduce the screening.


A Feast of Astonishments: Opening Program and Celebration
Saturday, January 16
Program and performances, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall: 1:30pm 
Exhibition viewing, Block Museum: 10:00am–6:00pm 

An ASTONISHING artist deserves an ASTONISHING celebration!

Join us for a feast of presentations, conversations, and performances: 


Joan Rothfuss, independent writer, art historian, and critic (author of Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman), will shed light on why Moorman was such an influential figure who brought new, experimental art to the masses.

Barbara Moore, art historian, writer, and former rare-book dealer specializing in avant-garde art of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, will provide a detailed look at the15 Annual New York Avant Garde Festivals that Moorman organized from 1963 through 1980.


A roundtable discussion of Annual New York Avant Garde Festivals will be moderated by Hannah Higgins, professor of art history at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and feature Sandra Binion, Chicago-based video artist and performer; Andrew Gurian, filmmaker and video artist; Alison Knowles, multi-media Fluxus artist; Jim McWilliams, who designed most of the posters for the Avant Garde Festivals; and Carolee Schneemann, multidisciplinary artist who transformed the discourse on the body, sexuality, and gender.


Takehisa Kosugi. Chamber Music
Performed by Drake Driscoll, Bienen School of Music student
Morton Feldman. Projection One
Performed by Riana Anthony, Bienen School of Music student
John Cage. Cello Etude Boreales, no. 1,
Performed by Drake Driscoll, Bienen School of Music student
Nam Jun Paik. One for Violin Solo
Performed by Myrtil Mitanga, Bienen School of Music student

This program is presented in partnership with the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, Northwestern University and co-sponsored by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.


Gallery Talk: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde
Thursday, January 28, 6:00pm
Block Museum

Exhibition curators will discuss the bold, barrier-breaking performances of Charlotte Moorman, whose Annual Avant Garde Festivals took music, performance, and art out of concert halls and museums and into public spaces such as Central Park, Grand Central Station, and Shea Stadium. 


Conversation and Performance:
Choreographer Simone Forti: Thinking with the Body
Monday, February 1, 6:00pm
The GYM at 640 Lincoln St. (Art Theory & Practice Building)

How can we develop a natural and intuitive flow between moving and speaking? What do we learn when our body intelligence and our verbal mind interact? Throughout her career, renowned experimental dancer, choreographer and writer Simone Forti has explored the relationship between dance and language; quotidian movement and performance. This program will combine an interview with Forti on her practice with Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies Amanda Jane Graham, with student performances from site-specific workshops Forti will just have conducted on Lake Michigan. Student performances will include Huddle, Forti’s seminal 1961 work included in Moorman’s Avant Garde Festivals.

This program is co-sponsored by the Departments of Art History, Art Theory & Practice, and Performance Studies; the Dance Program; Mellon Dance Studies; and the Poetry & Poetics Colloquium.


Lecture Demonstration:
Dear George...Love, Charlotte: Fluxus in the Annual Avant Garde Festivals
Wednesday, February 10, 6:00pm
Block Museum

Dear George… Love Charlotte will illuminate parts of a social and aesthetic network that connected Charlotte Moorman and the Annual Avant Garde Festivals to Fluxus, despite the protestations of Fluxus’ major-domo, George Maciunas. Originating Fluxus artists such as Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins and Jackson Mac Low were regular participants; Yoko Ono, Emmett Williams and George Brecht were represented in performance. Some Fluxus artists picketed the festival in 1964, others performed in it—a number did both. This international Fluxus family argued, celebrated, and created together or through the mail. Incorporating readings and events, Simon Anderson—Associate Professor of Art History, Theory and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Fluxus historian—will discuss their antics and perform some of their work, revealing a few of the elements that divided and conjoined these artists during this transformational period.


Performance: Tomeka Reid
Wednesday, February 17, 7:00pm
Block Museum

The repertoire of Chicago-based cellist, composer, and educator Tomeka Reid, like that of Charlotte Moorman, spans classical and experimental music. Reid performs internationally with some of today’s most creative musicians, including Dee Alexander’s Evolution Ensemble, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ Great Black Music Ensemble, the string trio Hear in Now, and the Tomeka Reid Quartet (featuring Jason Roebke on bass, Mary Halvorson on guitar, and Tomas Fujiwara on drums). She has also worked with forward-thinking musicians including Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, and Mike Reed, and has composed commissioned works for the AACM, the Chicago Jazz Festival, and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. For this event, she will perform live in conjunction with A Feast of Astonishments.

This program is co-sponsored by the Black Arts Initiative.


Department of Art History Elizabeth and Todd Warnock Lecture Series: Timothy Ingold
Wednesday February 24, 5:00pm
Block Museum 

In this lecture, Timothy Ingold formulates an alternative to occidental aesthetics by drawing on the knowledge and experience of indigenous peoples of the circumpolar North. Here, beauty is found in the movements of skilled practitioners who respond fluently, with sensitivity and precision, to the nuances of their relationships with human and non-human others. Ingold is Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

This program is organized by Northwestern’s Department of Art History.


Lecture Demonstration:
Moorman, Cage, and the Avant-Garde
Wednesday, March 2, 6:00pm
Block Museum

Using Charlotte Moorman’s own annotated copy of John Cage’s 26’ 1.1499” for a String Player as inspiration, this program explores her realization of Cage’s indeterminate score. Musicologist Ben Piekut, Associate Professor of Musicology at Cornell University and author of the acclaimed book Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits, will share his perspective on the piece and Moorman’s place within the historical moment of the 1960s avant-garde. To complement the program, Jason Rosenholtz-Witt, Northwestern PhD candidate in musicology, and his colleagues will perform excerpts from the score and consider the specific challenges presented by the work and Moorman’s unique approach.

This program is presented in partnership with the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, Northwestern University.


Performance: The Avant-Garde and the Politics of Music
Thursday, March 10
6:30pm, Block Museum
7:30pm, Shirley Welsh Ryan Opera Theater in the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts 

Charlotte Moorman’s repertoire of performance and musical compositions, and that of many other members of the avant-garde in the 1960s and 1970s, reflected the prevailing social and political upheavals of the time including the Anti-War, Civil Rights, and Feminist Movements. Like that of many artists today, her art was a means of responding to the world around her. Join the Block, students from the Bienen School of Music, and Bienen’s Contemporary Music Ensemble for an evening of socially-engaged performance. The program will begin at the Block, followed by a concert at the Shirley Welsh Ryan Opera Theater in the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. The Contemporary Music Ensemble will perform Georg Friedrich Haas’s in vain (2000), in response to the rise of the right wing Freedom Party in Austria. A new composition by Craig Davis Pinson, Northwestern PhD student in composition, will also debut during the evening. 

This program is presented in partnership with the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, Northwestern University.


Symposium: Performed in the Present Tense
Friday, April 8, 7:00-9:00pm, the GYM at 640 Lincoln St. (Art Theory & Practice Building)
Saturday, April 9, 10:00am–5:00pm, Block Museum

Performed in the Present Tense is a two-day symposium that investigates the contemporary legacy of Charlotte Moorman’s performances and her dedication to creating forums for experimental, collaborative, and boundary-breaking artistic practices. The symposium features artists, curators, and scholars who have engaged with (re) performance, performance scores, and the curating of performance art. 

April 8: Northwestern graduate students Didier Morelli, Ira Murfin, and Elliot Mercer perform canonical works by Geoff Hendricks, John Cage, and Yvonne Rainer

April 9: Presentations by artist-choreographer Brendan Fernandes, curator Travis Chamberlain (The New Museum), and curator Jenny Schlenzka (MoMA PS1)

This program is co-sponsored by Northwestern’s Departments of Art History, Art Theory & Practice, and Performance Studies; the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; the Dance Program; and Mellon Dance Studies.


SAVE THE DATE: Saturday, June 4

Featuring a performance by the Trisha Brown Dance Company, the inflating of Otto Piene’s sculpture Grand Rapids Carousel, a cello “happening” orchestrated by cellists from the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music and Chicagoland; and participatory Fluxus performances. More details to come!


(Image: Peter Moore. Publicity photograph for 3rd Annual New York Avant Garde Festival, August 26, 1965. Left to right: Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, Takehisa Kosugi, Gary Harris, Dick Higgins, Judith Kuemmerle, Kenneth King, Meredith Monk, Al Kurchin, Phoebe Neville. In front, kneeling, Philip Corner and James Tenney. Photograph © Barbara Moore/Licensed by VAGA, NY.)