John Giorno, poet, artist, musician, and activist has died.
Giorno wrote explicit poetry in the 60s that about homosexuality, performed around the world, painted text paintings, organized efforts to care for colleagues battling HIV/AIDS, and was a Buddhist.
Giorno expanded poetry and how it could be presented. He told tcurator Hans Ulrich Obrist,
“It occurred to me that poetry was 75 years behind painting and sculpture and dance and music.”
Giorno’s piece Dial-A-Poem, was a service he started in late 1967 that allowed anyone with a telephone to call and hear short poems by the likes of Joe Brainard, John Cage and Anne Waldman.
Giorno said there were,
“poems with sexual images, straight, or preferably gay, as I’m a gay man; and as political activism,. It seems strange that, in 1968, everything was still externally puritanical.”
Instructed by a teacher to write a poem at the age of 14, Giorno found it “blissful”, so he kept at it.
Giorno attended Columbia, graduating in 1958. He told Brooklyn Rail,
“I read a copy of Howl on spring break ’56. It blew my mind.”
By the early 60s, he had thrown himself fully into the small downtown art scene. He later said,
“There were all these gay artists, but they didn’t allow gay images in their work, nor was their gayness reflected in their work because it would have been the kiss of death. You couldn’t be a gay artist at that time.”
Giorno famously is the naked man resting in the 5-hour-long film Sleep (1963), which was shot by Andy Warhol, his lover at the time. Speaking with artist Rob Pruitt, Giorno said that he was surprised to find that his ass was in the film. He explained.
“I stayed out of it, because I’m not a filmmaker, I’m a poet, and I know that it’s always best to leave the filmmaker alone and stay out of it.”
In the 80s, Giorno and poets who recorded with his Giorno Poetry Systems used their royalties to provide emergency grants to artists with AIDS.
“I had already spent ten years raising money for political causes, but I realized by 1982 that the only thing people with AIDS needed was money for their expenses, direct help.”
Over the past couple decades, Giorno increasingly focused his efforts in the visual art world, and in 2015 he was the subject of a sprawling retrospective titled “I ♥︎ John Giorno” that was organized by his husband, artist Ugo Rondinone, at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, which traveled two years later to 13 alternative spaces in New York.
Art dealer Elizabeth Dee, said in an email to ArtNews,
“John was filled with extraordinary generosity, presence, and humor, not to mention a deep drive to be part of conversations and collaborations with artists. In terms of art and the multi-generational influence John had, both as muse and mentor, we may never see the likes of someone like him again.”
Giorno currently has a show at Sperone Westwater in New York which runs through October 26. Pieces include the inspiring last testament to a lifetime of shining,
“YOU GOT TO BURN TO SHINE.”
John Giorno was 84.
(Photos, Sperone Westwater; via ArtNews)