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Joan Rothfuss, author of "Topless Cellist: the Improbable Life of Chralotte Moorman."
Forget Pablo Casals and Yo-Yo Ma. Sure they were, and are, brilliant cellists, but those guys kept their clothes on. For sheer spectacle, madcap antics,exhibitionism and a generous dollop of cello skills, you want Julliard-trained Charlotte Moorman, a gal from Little Rock, AK who grabbed the avant garde by the scruff of its self-absorbed neck and -- in the 1960s and '70 -- dragged it onto the public glare of television variety and talk shows (Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin), shopping malls and prisons, and to New York City's Central Park, Shea Stadium and Grand Central Terminal.
In former Walker Art Center curator Joan Rothfuss, Moorman has found her perfect biographer. Rothfuss's "Topless Cellist: The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman," (MIT Press, $34.95) is fast paced, thoroughly researched, amusing, witty, compassionate, deeply informed and filled with jaw-dropping stories. Rothfuss will talk about Moorman and sign copies of the book at 2 p.m. October 5 in the Walker Cinema, 1750 Hennepin Av., Minneapolis. Free. 612-375-7600 or www.walkerart.org
Moorman played the cello while suspended from balloons floating over Australia's Sydney Opera House, performed on a cello made of ice, and often did her shows topless, in the buff, wrapped in cellophane, or wearing the "TV Bra," a contraption that sported two mini-televisions, one for each breast, in plexiglass boxes attached to transparent straps.
In February 1967 she was arrested (during a topless performance), tried and, in a sensationalized trial that generated huge publicity, convicted for violating "community standards of decency." Though humiliated by the incident, she embraced the "Topless Cellist" nickname that it spawned.
"TV Bra," was designed and built by Moorman's longtime companion and fellow avant-gardist Nam June Paik and is sometimes blamed for the breast cancer from which she died in 1991, age 57. To test that assumption, Rothfuss had the bra checked by a physicist who measured the radiation it emitted and concluded that it was highly unlikely that Moorman would have gotten cancer as a result of her performances while wearing it. "TV Bra" is now in the collection of Walker Art Center along with Paik's "TV Cello" and other Moorman/Paik memorabilia.
As a friend, colleague, pal and sometimes irritant to many contemporary artists, Moorman is remembered in Rothfuss' book by Yoko Ono, Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow, and others too numerous to mention.
"Topless Cellist" is a brilliant portrait of a true original and the chaotic, confrontational, destructive, absurd era in which she lived. It's also a must read for anyone who was flirting with Artland back then, or wishes they'd been on the scene. A portrait of the times as much as the woman, "Topless Cellist," gives a full measure of a life lived with "extreme passion, extreme sex, extreme beauty."
RIP Charlotte Moorman, 1933-1991
Twin Cities artists and arts leaders were on hand Monday at the White House to cheer on Bill T. Jones, who was presented with the National Medal for the Arts by President Obama.
A multiple Tony-winning choreographer, dancer, director and company founder, Jones has a decades-long association with artists and arts institutions in the Twin Cities, especially Walker Art Center, under whose aegis he has developed, premiered and performed many works. He also directed "Dream on Monkey Mountain" at the Guthrie Theater.
On Monday, Walker director Olga Viso (left) posed with honoree Jones alongside Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, who are, respectively, founder and principal dancer of Ragamala Dance Theater.
President Obama appointed both Viso and Ranee Ramaswamy (who supplied the image), to the National Council on the Arts. The Senate confirmed them in 2013.
Jones was one of 11 luminary winners of the arts medal, among the nation's highest honors for artists. The winner's roster included writers Julia Alvarez and Maxine Hong Kingston, musical theater composer John Kander, musician Linda Ronstadt and pioneering documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles.
Patrick Scully poses as poet Walt Whitman. Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler.
POST BY CAROLINE PALMER, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
Sometimes the best way to learn about an artist is through the perspective of another artist. With “Leaves of Grass – Uncut” Patrick Scully summons the radical spirit of 19th-century poet Walt Whitman. Over the course of the show, which had its first performance Thursday night as part of the Fresh Ink Series at the Illusion Theater, we learn that the two men have much in common when it comes to defying rules and embracing life.
Scully assumes the role of Whitman, talking through his life story, railing against the puritan morals of his day, lauding the love of other men, extolling his contemporaries (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oscar Wilde) and reading excerpts from his works. Whitman, as portrayed by Scully, is a confident man who explains how he would code his language to escape the wrath of a rabidly homophobic society. Despite these efforts, Whitman’s works were banned and critics were quick to denounce him with their harshest words, which is hard to imagine today given the significant influence and great beauty of his writing.
But Whitman was undeterred by these obstacles, which explains why he is such a hero to Scully, a proud rabble-rouser himself. With “Leaves of Grass – Uncut” Scully creates an onstage world that Whitman would have appreciated. Seventeen men dance together in tender, sensual and playful moments. In the opening scene they strip down entirely to bathe, setting the tone for an evening about relationships between men and how society has sought to deny them.
The movement itself is based in contact improvisation, which emphasizes the intuitive give and take of dancing with another person. Scully’s company members take great care to support and inspire one another. Kevin Kortan makes an appearance as Whitman’s lover Peter Doyle and in one of the work’s more poignant moments they discuss the poet’s refusal to use the pronoun “he” (instead using “she”) in his writing to describe their passionate relationship. Scully shows us that Whitman wasn’t always so bold.
The Fresh Ink series provides opportunities for artists to try out new ideas. Scully still has some work to do with tightening up the production – there are a couple of false endings – but it is a heartfelt salute to Whitman. Without this daring poet’s soaring words and his willingness to take risks in a hostile era, we may never know what it means to “sing the body electric.” Scully is the perfect caretaker for Whitman’s legacy.
“Leaves of Grass – Uncut” continues through Sunday, July 13 (8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. Sun). Illusion Theatre, Cowles Center, eighth floor, 528 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. $14-$19, 612-339-4944 or illusiontheater.org.
Helio Oiticica and Neville D'Almedia's "Block-Experience in Cosmococa--Program in Progress (1973) as seen on a tablet.
In 2005 when Walker Art Center published the most recent catalogue of its 12,000 piece collection, the 616 page volume was years in the making and covered a mere fraction of the center's holdings. Film, video, music, dance and other performance activities-- which are a key part of the Minneapolis' institution's program-- were described but not as thoroughly represented as paintings, sculpture and other objects.
A new "Living Collections Catalogue" aims to be more interactive, flexible, and responsive to the multidisciplinary focus of the collection. The web-based project will be accessible via laptop, smartphone, a tablet computer or other digital devices. Published in serial form, the segments will include documents, original interpretations from scholars commissioned by the Walker, and a variety of media resources about selected work from the collection.
The first segment, "On Performativity," deals with performance-based work in relationship to the visual arts. Scholars Philip Auslander, Shannon Jackson, and Dorothea von Hantelmann provide an overview of contemporary performance. Individual works in the collection are discussed by Elizabeth Carpenter, Eric Crosby, Peter Eleey, Bartholomew Ryan, and Irene Small. Multimedia material enhances their comments.
Artists whose work is explored in "On Performativity" include dancer/choreographer Trisha Brown, installation artist Helio Oiticica, filmmaker Neville D'Almedia, performers Eiko & Koma, mixed media installation artist Tino Sehgal, and an Anthropometry painting by Yves Klein.
The current exhibition "Art Expanded, 1958-1978, will be explored in a future segment.The online catalogue is supported by grants from the Getty Foundation as part of its "Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) which supports similar programs at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Seattle Art Museum and the Tate Gallery.
"Reds, Virginia, Minnesota, 1985" by James Crnkovich
Former Minnesota photographer James Crnkovich returns to his home state for a five-day tour to launch a sweet book of his photos. Starting with a signing at the Saint Paul Saints game on July 1, the tour will include additional stops in St. Paul, Aurora, Gilbert, Virginia and Mountain Iron.
A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Crnkovich has been featured on CBS's Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt, has his work in the collection of the Minnesota Museum of American Art, and has exhibited around the world. Locally he's best known for his 1980s photos of the Iron Range which were included in the exhibition "At a Close Range," which traveled to colleges, universities and historical societies throughout the Midwest.
His new paperback, "Authentic Americana: The Art of Social Documentary," reprints about 50 of his color and black-and-white images dating from 1980 to the present. Taken in Minnesota, New York, Boston, Phoenix, Chicago and elsewhere, they capture the American scene in all its gaudy vulgarity, latent violence, decay, cornball nonsense, and good humor. His commentary about the images is as insightful as the pictures themselves. There's a certain tenderness and big hearted acceptance of human frailty and loneliness that makes his photos very special.
Now a resident of Mesa, Arizona, Crnkovich will be back home in Minnesota to promote the book at the following events. The book also is available through: Naciketas Press, 715 E. McPherson, Kirksville, MO 63501.
July 1: 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Saint Paul Saints "Christmas in July" game, Midway Stadium, 1771 Energy Park Dr., St. Paul.
July 2: 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Common Good Books, Snelling at Grand, St. Paul.
July 3: 6 p.m., Aurora; 7 p.m., Gilbert. Patriotic Parades.
July 4: 1 p.m.-2 p.m. Aurora Public Library. 6 p.m. Virginia 4th of July parade.
July 5: 7 p.m.-9 p.m., Mac's Bar, 8881 Main St., Mountain Iron.
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