Skip to main content

The Girl From Little Rock Didn’t Like To Toss Anything Out

Block Museum of Art satellite exhibit offers a private peek at Charlotte Moorman

  • Known as the “topless cellist,” Moorman was an art pioneer and avant-garde impresario
  • Exhibition includes her private papers, diaries, books, art, memos, gifts and memorabilia
  • She saved her letters to and from Yoko Ono and John Cage, John Lennon’s audio message
  • Moorman produced 15 Annual New York Avant Garde Festivals 

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Performance art pioneer and avant-garde impresario Charlotte Moorman’s dying words -- “Don’t throw anything out”-- are the title of a museum exhibition at Northwestern University drawn from the Charlotte Moorman Archive at Northwestern University Library.

“Don’t Throw Anything Out” will accompany “A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s-1980s,” the first survey examining Moorman’s art and impact at the University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, on the Evanston campus.

Both Moorman-related exhibitions will open to the public Jan. 16 and remain on view through July 17, 2016.

While “A Feast of Astonishments” traces Moorman’s achievements and influence within the broad context of the art and culture of her time, “Don’t Throw Anything Out” provides a look at the private Moorman, the girl from Little Rock, Arkansas, who rather improbably became an instigator and ambassador for vanguard art. 

Greeting visitors to the “Don’t Throw Anything Out” exhibition is Peter Moore’s 1971 fish-eye photograph -- blown up to wall-size -- of Moorman posed in her apartment at the Hotel Paris in New York amid stacks of papers, books, boxes and countless hoarded treasures. Moorman is shown, flanked by a pair of industrial metal shelves overflown with archival boxes, books and other items saved by Moorman, including a can of Wizard air freshener.

Moorman’s double-barreled grey metal Rolodex occupies a place of honor, the frayed edges of its cards bearing witness to the telephone’s central importance in the life of the former Annual New York Avant Garde Festival organizer. Mounted vitrine cases along the perimeter walls tell different stories, including that of Moorman’s childhood and early years; her life with her husband Frank Pileggi; and the final years, after she was diagnosed with cancer. (She died Nov. 8, 1991, at the age of 57.)

Moorman’s little leather-bound event diaries will be displayed, a few opened to detailed pages, where Moorman recorded such minutiae as when she washed her hair and ate fish sticks for dinner, along with such notes as “was photographed by Andy Warhol.”

“Don’t Throw Anything Out” also features later diaries that Scott Krafft, curator of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern and the exhibition organizer, refers to as the “pain diaries.” Written not in notebooks but rather on the backs of envelopes or other scraps of paper, these notes document Moorman’s daily routine during the course of her decade-long battle with cancer. Here the visitor will find chronological time logs, injection times for morphine, lists of particular painful body areas and other inventories.

Moorman was not only an obsessive saver of written and photographic records, she also was an early adopter of the telephone answering machine and archived a decade of voice messages. She even kept corresponding written records of her callers, along with the dates and times of their calls. Visitors will hear personal audio messages left by Moorman, including ones from her mother, as well as by legends of the era, including John Lennon.

Also displayed in “Don’t Throw Anything Out” is correspondence between Moorman and Korean-American artist Nam June Paik, Japanese multimedia artist Yoko Ono and American composer, music theorist, writer and artist John Cage, as well as works of art given to Moorman, including a psychedelic-looking rainbow print of a ram by Japanese artist Ay-O and a rubber stamp portrait of Moorman created by Wolfgang Feelisch. 

More information on the Block available online. 

The Moorman Archive

The Charlotte Moorman Archive documents Moorman’s career as a musician and performance artist and as the producer of 15 Annual New York Avant Garde Festivals. Its vast holdings including correspondence, manuscripts and music scores, photographs, videos and films, audio recordings, posters and artworks documenting Moorman’s collaboration with such noted figures as Nam June Paik, John Cage and Yoko Ono. 

The archive also provides unusually complete documentation of Moorman’s personal life from her childhood through her final years of struggle with cancer, as well as ancillary documentation of the New York art and music scenes of the 1960s through the 1980s. 

The archive resides in Northwestern’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. Also at the University are the related archives of John Cage -- which Cage began donating to Northwestern’s Music Library in 1973 -- and the Dick Higgins Archive -- which Higgin’s daughters, Hannah and Jessica, donated in 1999. Together, the three archives comprise a unique resource for scholars of Fluxus (an international network of artists, composers and designers noted for blending different artistic media and disciplines in the 1960s) and other aspects of postwar avant-garde movements. 

Krafft remembers the day that the Charlotte Moorman Archive arrived at the library. “In May 2001, a big cargo truck reared up to the dock. The shipment contained 178 bankers’ boxes, 31 oversize boxes or flats and 48 poster tubes, all filled to capacity. Many of the boxes were indexed on the inventory list by some kind of material category or by subject. But the rest were more ominously labeled “Unsorted” or “Miscellaneous.” As I began to sort items into subject piles, at any given time there were perhaps 30 or so categories at play.”

About Northwestern University Libraries

Northwestern University Libraries serve the Evanston, Chicago and Qatar campuses by providing access to more than 5 million books, 3.5 linear miles of manuscripts, archives and unique materials; and tens of thousands of journals, databases and periodicals. Their distinctive holdings include the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, which houses more than 250,000 rare materials ranging from Mesopotamian tablets to one of the largest second-wave feminism collections in the country; the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, the world’s largest collection of materials relating to Africa; and the Music Library, recognized internationally for its commitment to 20th-century classical music and the John Cage Notations Collections.

Editor's Picks

Back to top