John Giorno, the pioneering poet, artist, and seemingly limitless collaborator, has died aged 82, confirmed last night by the galleries Almine Rech and Sperone Westwater.
Giorno will be remembered for being at the absolute heart of the cultural scene in postwar New York. In the late 50s, he bumped elbows – literally – with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and by the 60s he was writing explicit poems that suggested his homosexuality, integrating his words into text paintings, and engaging with the battle against HIV/Aids.
He was also (the story could end there, but it doesn’t) Andy Warhol’s muse, appearing in a couple of his films but most notably in Sleep, Warhol’s experimental 1963 film depicting Giorno, well, sleeping.
Two years later, Giorno’s poetry non-profit Giorno Poetry Systems founded the first ever Dial-A-Poem. Aimed at bringing poetry to a wider audience, this put people on the other end of the line with Patti Smith, John Ashbery, John Cage, Philip Glass, and Robert Mapplethorpe among others (including texts advocating for civil rights or opposing the Vietnam War).
Dial-A-Poem is also how Giorno met William Burroughs, with whom he became close friends and embedded himself in the CBGBs scene of the early 70s.
Giorno didn’t slow down too much before his death, either, it appears. He continued to exhibit in galleries and, in late 2017, collaborated withDior on an iridescent rainbow bag emblazoned with text.
His poetry continued to comment on the queer experience and his charity founded in 1984, The AIDS Treatment Project, still distributes funds to those suffering from HIV and Aids.
John Giorno is survived by his husband, the artist Ugo Rondinone.