Ugo Rondinone asked Scott King to make a graphic identity for the exhibition I ♥︎ John Giorno that is visible at each partner institution and throughout New York City.
King explains his process: “I made a false start with this project. When Ugo Rondinone asked me to make the graphic saying ‘I ♥︎ John Giorno,’ I immediately thought he wanted something ‘designed’ ... but he didn’t, he wanted ‘my voice’ to say ‘I ♥︎ John Giorno.’ It’s a subtle difference, maybe not one visible to the untrained eye. As simple as this design looks, it actually took me a long time to finish—partly because I don’t know John personally, so it was a struggle to claim that I ♥︎ him, and partly because it is so hard to use the ‘I ’ without copying the original Milton Glaser ‘I ♥︎ NY’: a piece of typographic design so enormously successful that it has long since passed through ‘design cliché’ and into the realm of international language. Anyway, in the end, I spent a lot of time reading about John Giorno— I did my research—then one morning I woke up, sat at the computer and typed out.”
King’s artistic practice through pop culture, image production and public art stems from his work as a graphic designer. In the 1990s, he worked as art director of i-D magazine and creative director of Sleazenation magazine. He has also produced work for many influential figures including the Pet Shop Boys, Michael Clark, Malcolm McLaren, Morrissey, and Suicide.
Michael Stipes’s video We All Go Back to Where We Belong, John (2011), featuring John Giorno, is installed as part of High Line Channel 14, High Line Art’s ongoing video program located on the park at 14th Street. In 2011, Michael Stipe and Dominic J. DeJoseph directed two video pieces for this song, one with Kirsten Dunst and another with Giorno. Created in the style of Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, these stark, simple portraits, upon their release, became the final visual representation for the band R.E.M.
Stipe explains the creation of the videos: “I first met John Giorno in the mid-1990s at a small party in Kansas for his great friend William Burroughs. He was easily one of the most charismatic and physically stunning men I had ever had the pleasure to meet. Many years later, in New York, I went to the opening of Andy Warhol: Screen Tests at the Museum of Modern Art. I saw John standing alone, quietly, in the middle of a crowded room. I approached him, we spoke, he hugged me, and that was that. In 2011, my band R.E.M. was writing the last three songs we would ever record—I was struggling to finish the lyrics—and I woke up one night in the middle of a dream. In the dream I had approached John and my neighbor, the actress Kirsten Dunst, and asked them each if they would participate in a video piece to accompany the song. Without hesitation they both said yes. In We All Go Back To Where We Belong, John, I asked John to sit quietly for the length of the song. I hit ‘record’ on the video camera, and surprised him by singing the song a cappella as we filmed. His reaction is just what I had hoped for—surprise, delight, embarrassment, a calm amusement—exactly like my dream. The song has been performed three times—once for John, once for Kirsten and once at Carnegie Hall.”
For his 70th birthday in 2006, John Giorno wrote the autobiographical poem THANX 4 NOTHING. Beneath its apparent clarity, this work of maturity and wisdom evokes the poet’s past with gratitude: “I want to give my thanks to everyone for everything, and as a token of my appreciation, I want to offer back to you all my good and bad habits.”
Filmed barefoot on a Parisian stage by Ugo Rondinone, Giorno turns away from literary genres of confession and elegy, contrasting them with the legendary image of the poet as a moralistic sage.
Rondinone describes the creation of the work: “In the fall of 2011, I filmed John Giorno in the old vaudeville theatre, Palais des Glaces in Paris. I filmed him 24 times in a black tuxedo and 24 times in a white tuxedo and from all four sides. Each side was filmed in four different shot sizes—close-up, medium shot, three-quarter shot, wide angle shot. For each take, John Giorno performed the entire poem THANX 4 NOTHING. The challenge was to synchronize each frame exactly to the pace of the diction of the poem.”
Referencing drugs, alcohol, and sex, Giorno delivers a spiritual act of transmission in a mix of biting irony and Buddhist wisdom. Love and treachery, friendship and rivalry, benevolence and malevolence are all acknowledged without any value judgments, even when it comes to America, which he thanks “for its neglect.”
The installation of THANX 4 NOTHING is surrounded by the John Giorno Archive (1936–ongoing), a facsimile of Giorno’s original archive made up of 15,147 documents. The archive mixes his private life and artistic life through remnants of family albums, travels, social engagements, and documentation of poetry, performance and visual work. Each digitized element has been reproduced on a sheet of colored paper and adapted to a standard A4 scale. The entirety of the installation has been arranged chronologically and displayed on the walls of Sky Art in a grid. Colored poem drawings, paintings and prints by Giorno from 1966 to the present are also hung atop this installation, creating a panoply of color and content that mirrors his rich history.
Visitors are invited to dive further into Giorno’s life by looking at binders of archival material, compiled by archivists Marcia Bassett and Anastasia Clarke, that are available on nearby tables. With its publications, posters, photographs, records and products, this archive makes the diversity of Giorno’s work tangible.
Rondinone remarks about the archive: “When I saw John Giorno’s archive for the first time in 2000, I was impressed by its vast size and how he had methodically organized the archive in a timeline by dating and labeling the boxes with archival material dating back to 1936. Giorno’s archive is the main reason I am doing the exhibition. The challenge was to present a literary archive as a visual exhibition.”
SLEEP AND OTHER WORKS at Swiss Institute presents John Giorno’s relationship with Andy Warhol as both lover and muse. Giorno first saw Warhol’s work in 1962 in an exhibition which included Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup Can works at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. Giorno met Warhol later that year at his first solo show at the Stable Gallery, and the two became close friends and lovers. Warhol went on to depict Giorno in multiple contexts, from his short films made at private parties and on weekends with friends to a series of Screen Tests (1964–1966) that were themselves an extension of Warhol’s insatiable obsession with portraits. In a static, silent, black-and-white style, with neither narration nor action, these filmed faces evoke photographs, and their tight, close-up composition and formal pose derive from early photo booth portraits made by Warhol in 1963, which are also on view.
Giorno and Warhol’s monumental collaboration is Sleep, Warhol’s first long film. Giorno describes the creation of the work: “In August 1963, Andy started shooting Sleep. It was an easy shoot. I loved to sleep. I slept all the time, twelve hours a day every day. It was the only place that felt good: complete oblivion, resting in a warm dream world, taking refuge in the lower realms. Everything awake was horrible. Andy would shoot for about three hours, until 5 A.M when the sun rose, all by himself.”
After a month of shooting, Warhol was faced with editing a large number of rolls of film. He ultimately decided to loop some of the shots he had made, remembering a concert organized by John Cage in 1963 of Erik Satie’s 1893 piece Vexations, where an 80-second composition was repeated over more than 18 hours. According to Giorno, at the official premiere of Sleep at the Gramercy Arts Theater in January 1964, Warhol used Vexations to accompany the screening. Giorno describes the work’s appearance: “Andy was terrified that it would be perceived as a gay movie, perceived as a gay man’s filming another gay man. That’s why Sleep looks like what it does; it doesn’t even look like a man half the time. It looks like light and dark, like an abstract painting.”
Red Bull Arts New York presents a selection of John Giorno’s audio works amidst a dense display of visual pieces generated from his poems, reflecting the repetitive and layered nature of Giorno’s poetry itself.
Offering random access to poems, Giorno’s visionary work Dial-A-Poem anticipated mass-media communication and the commercial success of telephone hotlines. As he saw it, reading a book in your armchair was a hundred years out of date and the traditional voice-only poetry reading was “so boring,” according to his friend Andy Warhol. For Dial-A-Poem, Giorno asked 250 artists to record their voices, mingling the poetry of John Ashbery, the energy of Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, the minimalist music of Philip Glass and instructions for making a Molotov cocktail in a poem by Diane di Prima. It was not poetry as a literary genre that interested Giorno, but rather the presence of the voice as sound; a noise or a message recorded and then communicated intimately via the telephone. After an initial tryout organized by the Architectural League in New York in 1968, Dial-A-Poem became a sensation, jamming the telephone lines during the Information exhibition at MoMA in 1970. “The majority of the calls,” Giorno remembers, “came between nine in the morning and five in the afternoon, which means in New York people imprisoned in their glass office buildings, sitting behind desks nervously dialing.” The Dial-A-Poem phone line, which has been reprised for this exhibition, can be reached by calling (641)793-8122.
For the Paris iteration of Ugo Rondinone: I ♥︎ John Giorno, Rondinone incorporated the text of Giorno's poems on scrolling video screens which simultaneously play the audio of Giorno's performance of the poem. These works are featured at Red Bull Arts New York amidst drawings and paintings by Giorno, all made in collaboration with his longtime designer Mark Michaelson. Between 1965 and 2004, Giorno worked with sound engineer Bob Bielecki to create 14 sound poems. Bielecki is known for his innovative use of technology, and together he and Giorno pioneered experimental audio work. All 14 sound poems can be heard on earphones attached to monitors suspended from the ceiling of the gallery that simultaneously show the text of the sound poems.
In the lower gallery nine songs recorded by The John Giorno Band are available for listening through headphones, along with photos taken by Kate Simon of The John Giorno Band performing at CBGB. Active from 1982-89, the original band included percussionist David van Tieghem, guitarist Pat Irwin and bassist Philippe Hagen. Giorno then went on to work with other artists including Lenny Kaye, Charlie and Adam Roth, Mike Osborne and David Conrad among others. Throughout the band’s existence, Giorno used his poems to create musical compositions and performances, chanting the works to highlight their repetitive, lyric quality. The John Giorno Band never released an album during its existence, but, in association with the festival, Red Bull Arts New York has produced an LP with the group’s nine songs.
The lecture hall at Red Bull Arts New York features a single channel, looped installation of Ugo Rondinone’s recording of John Giorno performing THANX 4 NOTHING.
“When you’re a Buddhist, you work with your mind in meditation, and with various practices you train the mind to realize its empty nature. Strangely, that’s the way I make poems! Maybe it’s developing the ability to see what arises in one’s mind, how it arises and its nature, that makes Buddhism very sympathetic to poets.” — John Giorno
Giorno was first introduced to Buddhism during his undergraduate studies at Columbia University in 1956 as part of its Core Curriculum. After several trips to India during the 1970s, he discovered Tibetan Buddhism and became a disciple of Dudjom Rinpoche (1904–1987), master of the Nyingmapa lineage, which Giorno actively helped to promulgate in the United States.
Every New Year since 1986 Giorno has welcomed Buddhist masters and students to his home for the traditional fire ceremony, during which the obstacles of the previous year are released to usher in the new one. For this exhibition, Giorno’s personal shrine from his home, which is decorated with intricate brocade from the sacred pilgrimage site of Banaras in India, has been relocated to the gallery space. Additionally, selected from the collection of the Rubin Museum of Art, a group of eighteen thangkas—Tibetan paintings—are also on display along with two from Giorno’s personal collection.
Padmasambhava, the founding figure of the Nyingmapa order, is depicted in a number of the works. Considered to be a “Second Buddha” in Tibet, Padmasambhava played a predominant role in the advancement of Buddhism across Tibet in the 8th century. Padmasambhava is endowed with superhuman qualities and shown through Tibetan iconography in a variety of forms.
Guru Pema Drakpo is one of the most wrathful depictions of Padmasambhava, an illustration of the powerful energy required to neutralize and transmute the obstacles that inevitably arise on the path to Enlightenment and spiritual accomplishment. He holds in his hand a vajra or “Diamond Thunderbolt,” a symbol of Enlightenment and a ritual object. Padmasambhava is believed to have been essential to the dissemination of the teachings of the Vajrakila, also known as the “Diamond Dagger,” throughout Tibet
Conversely, Guru Pema Jungne is a more peaceful depiction of Padmasambhava. Known as the “Lotus-Born,” he is often shown sitting on a flower and dressed in the robes of a monk, teaching Dharma to the people. In his right hand he holds a diamond scepter, while in his left he holds a skullcap of clear nectar.
205 Hudson Gallery presents material from Giorno’s AIDS Treatment Project begun in 1984. Conceived as a direct-action program, Giorno described it as “my personal effort to combat with all-pervasive compassion, the catastrophe of the AIDS epidemic. Cash grants for emergency situations: back rent, telephone and utilities, food, nursing, alternative medicine not covered by Medicaid, taxis, whatever is needed. Money given with love and affection.”
Facilitated through his non-profit foundation Giorno Poetry Systems, many artists in his LP series, such as William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Patti Smith, among many others, donated their royalties to the AIDS Treatment Project. Giorno also organized benefit performances at the Beacon Theater with artists including Debbie Harry, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Sonic Youth; and posters from these concerts are included here. The AIDS Treatment Project concluded in 2004, though Giorno has continued to help poets and artists since with medical problems.
Peter Ungerleider’s film Loving Kindness, presented with the AIDS Treatment Project documentation, is a portrait of Giorno that focuses on his work with the AIDS Treatment Project interspersed with his musings on death within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
The Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Gallery displays works by Kendall Shaw depicting his close friend John Giorno. In 1963, Shaw took photos of Giorno dancing that later inspired his spare paintings whose black outlines and colorful silhouettes depict Giorno’s body in motion.
Shaw recounts: “At twenty six, Giorno had a trim, young and elegant figure, but his face was oddly mature, and as rough and craggy as a rocky Sicilian landscape. My camera captured lines when he danced naked to rock and roll. Found lines and shapes were precise, actual and real, not imagined.”
The works were first exhibited at the Tibor de Nagy gallery in September 1964. For the first time, a number of Shaw’s original photographs will also be exhibited alongside the paintings.
Also on view at the Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Gallery is Grasping at Emptiness, a collaboration featuring Giorno’s 1978 eponymous poem and 20 drawings by Richard Bosman. Bosman’s dynamic depictions of frustration evoke Giorno’s poem about a fraught end to a relationship.
Bosman recalls: “The inspiration for the images came from Chinese comic books that I would get in Chinatown, as well as other comic books such as Creepy, Eerie, and Weird Tales. I made drawings in black ink, but then with the context of the poems, the meaning would change dramatically. It was a lot of fun going to the dark side. I think the poems and images both do that.”
This book was published in 1985 by the Kulchur Foundation, an independent press and granting organization that supported poets and critics now primarily known as part of the New York School.
Pierre Huyghe’s 1998 piece Sleeptalking reconsiders the depiction of John Giorno in Andy Warhol’s Sleep thirty-five years after its premiere. Huyghe visited Giorno in his loft at 222 Bowery with the intention to recreate Warhol’s Sleep and to have a conversation with Giorno about his life. Huyghe spent 5 days interviewing Giorno for over eight hours a day, and on their final day together filmed Giorno sleeping on the same bed featured in Warhol’s Sleep.
In the final work, Huyghe overlaid his footage of Giorno with Warhol’s, and through subtle shifts, Giorno’s time-marked face imperceptibly changes and rejuvenates. This return to the original, revealed in the film by a slow fade-out, is accompanied by the poet’s voice. Giorno describes the context of the creation of the film Sleep and his memories of working with Warhol. As part of a series of works about the notion of interpretation, Huyghe associates Warhol’s Sleep with the dreams and utopias of the 1960s. Awoken from his long slumber, the sleeper now speaks and becomes an actor in a different reality, evoking the time he lived and its history.
“As I watched John perform, I felt the great wave of energy and compassion, the force of life that John was transferring onto us (his listener, his viewer, his audience). With that thought, I felt the urge to ask John if he would let me record this gift that he had managed to sustain in his being throughout his existence.” — Rirkrit Tiravanija
In the summer of 2008, Rirkrit Tiravanija filmed John Giorno performing his poems, memoirs, and music work. Tiravanija's work, untitled 2008 (john giorno reads), was originally shot on 16mm black-and-white film (now transferred to video), and runs 10 hours and 6 minutes. Filmed in Giorno’s studio, untitled 2008 (john giorno reads) spans five decades of work. The work is visible inside a plywood pavilion that Tiravanija designed as a reconstruction of Giorno’s studio. The installation also includes a bench made by Mark Handforth specifically for this work.
Giorno’s performances between 1974 and 1999 were extensively documented by French photographer Françoise Janicot, who traveled to performance and poetry festivals with her husband poet Bernard Heidsieck, Giorno, and fellow artists and friends. A selection of these photographs is on display at The Kitchen.
Joan Wallace’s sculpture portrait, Split Girl / Man Sleeping (Trying to Keep Things Still), references Andy Warhol’s 1963 depiction of John Giorno in Sleep by featuring stills from the film silkscreened onto rotating plywood panels. The muted green monochrome structure contrasts the work’s dynamic nature, which considers the legacy of Pop Art amid a larger critique of appropriation.
A specially curated presentation of the Giorno Poetry Systems (GPS) is presented at White Columns. Launched in 1965 in the context of the ongoing civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, GPS sought to create a new audience and relevance for poetry. The sleeve of the 1972 double album Dial-A-Poem-Poets features a manifesto-like declaration by Giorno: “At this point, with the war and the repression and everything, we thought this was a good way for the Movement to reach people.”
Giorno’s ambition for GPS led to the release of more than fifty recordings on vinyl, cassette, CD and video formats by an extraordinary range of poets, performers and musicians, inspired by his exposure in the early 1960s to the innovative practices of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and the members of the Judson Dance Theatre. Reflecting on their influence, Giorno has observed: “The use of modern mass media and technologies by these artists made me realize that poetry was 75 years behind painting and sculpture, dance and music. And I thought, if they can do it, why can’t I do it for poetry?”
Angela Bulloch and Anne Collier were invited by Matthew Higgs to respond to the physical and recorded archives of GPS. Bulloch’s Happy Sacks (1994-2015) create a communal environment where the audience can relax and listen to the entire GPS back-catalogue, which is available to scroll through on iPads. Displayed as a digital slide show on LED screens, Collier has documented the vinyl albums, CDs and videotapes featuring original photography and artwork by artists including Les Levine, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jimmy De Sana, Peter Hujar and Keith Haring that were distributed by GPS between 1972 and 1993.
A number of portraits of John Giorno are on display at White Columns, exemplifying his influence on several generations of artists. While the works reflect the admiration artists feel for the poet’s work, the portraits also show their interest in his presence. Elizabeth Peyton describes this attraction: “I asked John if he would let me make a portrait of him in 2007… I had been to more than a few of his readings… I think I was really moved to take action after seeing the film Rirkrit made of John reading all of his poetry—it blew my mind… I really wanted to make a picture to contain John’s gentle and radical John-ness…”
These portraits affirm the vital energy of Giorno, which is characterized by two opposing forces: an inexhaustible physical power in his stage performances, and a spiritual wisdom acquired by a meditation practice spanning several decades. Perhaps most poignantly, they reveal Giorno’s relationship to painters from the New York art scene, including Billy Sullivan, Verne Dawson, Elizabeth Peyton, Phong Bui and Judith Eisler.
The installation at White Columns also includes a selection of John Giorno’s T-shirt poems from 1965-2016, with phrases ranging from poetic fragments to enigmatic aphorisms related to different projects that Giorno has organized over the years including Giorno Poetry Systems, AIDS Treatment Project, and various exhibitions.
Artists Space has organized a series of public programs to accompany the exhibition that, while taking cue from the broad influence of John Giorno’s work, will focus on the queer overlap of reading and performance. The series will feature an expansive group of artists and poets, placing those who came of age as peers of Giorno in the influential East Village poetry scene alongside figures who trace numerous other positions within today’s extended landscape of North American poetics. Readings in the series will be recorded, with videos published online, in tribute to Giorno’s inventive approach to the distribution and publication of the written and spoken word.
Please refer to the events schedule and artistsspace.org for further details.
The Brooklyn Rail’s summer issue is devoted to Ugo Rondinone: I ♥︎ John Giorno and organized according to the sections of the exhibition, which taken together offer an overview of Giorno's life, work, and collaborations. Edited by poet Mónica de la Torre and curator Laura Hoptman, the issue includes contributions by poets, musicians, artists, critics, holy men and art historians, and is illustrated with photos and documents chosen from Giorno's vast personal archive.