Shop > Artists' Books


Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman

Yoko Ono
The MIT Press
Artists' Books
7 × 9 inches
448 pages
, History

The Juilliard-trained cellist Charlotte Moorman sat nude behind a cello of carved ice, performed while dangling from helium-filled balloons, and deployed an array of instruments on The Mike Douglas Show that included her cello, a whistle, a cap gun, a gong, and a belch. She did a striptease while playing Bach in Nam June Paik’s Sonata for Adults Only. In the 1960s, Moorman (1933–1991) became famous for her madcap (and often unclothed) performance antics; less famous but more significant is Moorman’s transformative influence on contemporary performance practice—and her dedication to the idea that avant-garde art should reach the widest possible audience. In Topless Cellist, the first book to explore Moorman’s life and work, Joan Rothfuss rediscovers, and recovers, the legacy of an extraordinary American artist.

Moorman’s arrest in 1967 for performing topless made her a water-cooler conversation-starter, but before her tabloid fame she was a star of the avant-garde performance circuit, with a repertoire of pieces by, among others, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, John Cage, and Paik, her main artistic partner. Moorman invented a new mode of performance that combined classical rigor, jazz improvisation, and avant-garde experiment—informed by intuition, daring, and love of spectacle. Moorman’s annual festival of the avant-garde offered the public a lively sampler of contemporary art in performance, music, dance, poetry, film, and other media.

Rothfuss chronicles Moorman’s life from her youth in Little Rock, Arkansas (where she was “Miss City Beautiful” of 1952) through her career in New York’s avant-garde to her death from breast cancer in 1991. (Typically, she approached her treatment as if it were a performance.) Deeply researched and profusely illustrated, Topless Cellist offers a fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious story of an artist whose importance was more than the sum of her performances.

Hardcover, black & white images, English text.

  1. Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman

Related Items

  1. Laura U. Marks: Enfoldment and Infinity
  2. Screen Ecologies
  3. Vito Acconci: Language to Cover a Page
  4. Felicity D. Scott: Outlaw Territories
  5. Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin: Fantasies of the Library
  6. Yoko Ono: 600 Eyes for Krzysztofory
  7. Mike Kelley: Minor Histories
  8. Sexuality
  9. Shawna Dempsey and Lori Millan: In the Life
  10. Yoko Ono: Imagine Peace
  11. A Second Modernism: MIT, Architecture, and the ’Techno-Social’ Moment
  12. Yoko Ono: Spare Room
  13. Cities of Everyday Life
  14. Steven Evans: The Number One Song in Heaven
  15. Eloisa Aquino: The Life and Times of Butch Dykes: Chavela Vargas
  16. James Westcott: When Marina Abromović Dies: A Biography
  17. Derek Sullivan: Sixteen Books by Artists: Check this shit out
  18. Sean Landers, Art, Life and God
  19. Slide Shows
  20. Ben Burgess: Your Life Story
  21. The Adventures of Nar Duell in Second Life: Pushing Art
  22. Ho Tam: hotam #1
  23. The Adventures of Nar Duell in Second Life – Dancing With Myself
  24. The Adventures of Nar Duell in Second Life: Pill Flower World
  25. The Adventures of Nar Duell in Second Life - The Low Life Epic
  26. The Adventures of Nar Duell in Second Life: The Snow Globe Epic
  27. Cabin Time: Green River
  28. The Adventures of Nar Duell in Second Life – Finding TrackHouse
  29. Paul Buck: A Public Intimacy (A Life through Scrapbooks)
  30. John Beeson: Relative Distance
  31. Sydney Hermant: Aunt Maud’s Scrapbook
  32. David Robilliard: The Yes No Quality of Dreams
  33. Henry Roy: Feb. 17, 2009
  34. Brian Boigan: We Have Impact
  35. Peep Hole Sheet #13 - Summer 2012

Claire Fontaine: Imperceptible Abstractions