Charlotte Moorman

Charlotte Moorman (November 1933 – November 1991)

Charlotte Moorman was an American cellist and performance artist who was a strong driving force for avant-garde music; she was dubbed the ‘Jean d’Arc of new music’ by composer Edgar Varese. In 1963, Moorman founded the Annual Avant Garde Festival in New York, which she directed for two decades.

Moorman frequently collaborated with Korean Nam June Paik over a decades-long period who was known as the ‘father of video art’. Paik created some works specifically with Moorman in mind including TV Bra for Living Sculpture (1969) and TV-Cello (1971).

Following Moorman’s death from breast cancer in 1991, Paik made a film entitled Topless Cellist (1995) about her life and avant-garde performances. Moorman also collaborated with other Fluxus artists including Carolee Schneemann, Joseph Beuys, Takehisa Kosugi and Jim McWilliams (Sky Kiss, 1968-1980).

TV-Cello (1971), left, Sky Kiss (1968-1980), right

At the time, feminism was making waves and there was regular conversation around the bias against female artists:

“I always thought that she was such a vivid extension of any of Paik’s principles, that he was almost like her acolyte. But that was my position as a feminist artist, always seeing that the women were to some extent marginalized or in a reduced position to support the male artist, like a muse. That was the tradition. At the time, it was really all pre-feminist analysis, so Charlotte was anomalous. People didn’t know what to make of her critically, insofar as the the cultural critics were young men.”

– Carolee Schneemann

Yet many of Moorman’s biggest critics were in fact second-wave feminists who saw her collaborations with male artists and the frequent use of her naked body (viewed as degrading and seductive) as an insult to their objectives. During Opera Sextronique (devised by Nam June Paik), Moorman was arrested for ‘indecent exposure’ and given a suspended prison sentence.

Even within Fluxus, she drew differing opinions:

“She was always this girl from Arkansas, this wonderful child in a dress, holding flowers—so when someone tells her to take off her clothes, she takes off her clothes, and when someone tells her to go naked into the water, she’ll do it…And I find that at a certain point for her to redo those pieces of Paik again and again was a bit sad, or maybe she would just do it because that was the work that she was known for.”

– Fluxus artist Alison Knowles

“I completely identify with her use of the body because it was absolutely playing against the anticipated eroticism of the time,” says Schneemann. “It was too confusing, it was too different, it didn’t conform to a prurient aspect of the female body that would create desire. She was doing something else that bewildered and conflicted with traditional expectations.”

– Fluxus artist Carolee Schneemann

Moorman was publicly denounced by George Maciunas for being too willing to offer up her body for Paik and other men.




Video profile of Moorman:



Images of Moorman:

Live performances:

Moorman playing a composition entitled ​​26 Minutes, one point, 1,499 seconds for a string player by John Cage:

Moorman performing Paik’s TV Cello:

Ice Music by Jim McWilliams, played by Charlotte Moorman:

TV-Bra for Living Sculpture: 


Works of Moorman:

Charlotte Moorman & Nam June Paik ‘Education Kit’:

Images of live performances:

TV-Bra for Living Sculpture:

72 images of Moorman & her cello:


Untitled (Performance of Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik’s “New Sounds from Old Rubbish and Bare Bodies,” London, March, 1969): 

Various shots of June Paik and Charlotte Moorman giving performance of action music in Berlin street and in a small club:

Photographs of live performances:

Works by Moorman, Conz Archive:

Online works:


The Legacy of the “Topless Cellist”, The New Yorker:

Summary of ‘Topless Cellist: The Improbable of Charlotte Moorman’ (with foreword by Yoko Ono):

‘Charlotte Moorman is finally remembered as more than “The Topless Cellist”:

On Charlotte Moorman & Nam June Paik:

‘Avant-gartist Charlotte Moorman finally gets the recognition she’s due’:

‘Don’t throw anything out: the legacy of Charlotte Moorman’:

‘Charlotte Moorman: Shattering Barriers Between Art and Technology’: 

‘Celebrating Charlotte Moorman – the ‘topless Cellist’’: 

Assortment of articles on Moorman:

‘Charlotte Moorman Exposed’:

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

Hundert Arten, ein Cello zu spielen (‘Hundreds of ways to play a cello’) (German):

‘Positionen in Kunst – Charlotte Moorman’ (‘Positions in art – Charlotte Moorman’) (German):

‘Topless Cellist’ article:

‘Charlotte Moorman New York exhibition: a spirit of unruly innovation’, Financial Times:

‘Charlotte Moorman and the Origins of Video’:

‘Charlotte Moorman: Chicago exhibit reveres avant garde’s renegade cellist’:


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

‘Ein Fest des Staunens. Charlotte Moorman und die Avantgarde, 1960-1980’, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg exhibition (German):


Obituary, New York Times:

Memorial Facebook Page:

Charlotte Moorman Memorial Facebook page:

Video Resources:

On Paik and Moorman’s collaboration experimenting with new technologies:

Interview with Charlotte Moorman Part 1:

Interview with Charlotte Moorman Part 2:

Further reading:

Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman by Joan Rothfuss (summary:

Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman Reading by Author Joan Rothfuss: 

A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde 1960s-1980 edited by Lisa Graziose Corrin and Corinne Granof (