John Giorno, When the Going Gets Rough the Tough Gets Gorgeous, 1989, Silkscreen on vinyl, 120 × 120 cm, Edition of 8
Courtesy of Archivio Conz, Berlin
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  • Silkscreen on vinyl
  • 120 × 120 cm
    (47 ¼ × 47 ¼ inches)
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  • John Giorno was an American poet and performance artist widely recognized as a leading figure of the Beat Generation. After graduating from Columbia University in New York in 1958, he briefly worked as a stockbroker, establishing a reputation among his peers as “the poet who works on Wall Street.” A beloved friend, collaborator, and muse of many Pop artists, Giorno was the protagonist of Andy Warhol’s famous film Sleep (1963). Other encounters and collaborations followed, and personalities such as William Burroughs, John Cage, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns, Trisha Brown, and Carolee Schneeman were among his circle of friends and acquaintances. Intent on giving poetry a renewed performative and multimedia dimension, Giorno founded Giorno Poetry Systems in 1965, a nonprofit production company committed to creating and promoting experimental poetry. Three years later, Giorno organized the first Dial-A-Poem event at the Architectural League of New York. Both acclaimed and censored, Dial-A-Poem was a platform and communication system which made a selection of readings and speeches by poets and activists available through the telephone. Giorno’s text-based poetry evolved rapidly inthe late 1960s. He published his first monograph, Poems, and his first LP in 1967, collaborating with Robert Rauschenberg and Les Levine on the designs. 1970 saw the publication of Balling Buddha, which also contained several “Electronic Sensory Poetry Environments,” poetry performances made in collaboration with Robert Moog, initially presented in 1966. Since 1971, following a trip to India with Allen Ginsberg, Giorno embraced Buddhist spiritual precepts. Devoting himself to frequent retreats, he made his famous loft at 222 Bowery a space for the practice of the Nyingma lineage. As a key supporter of queer culture, Giorno expanded the reach of Giorno Poetry Systems activities to a fund system dedicated to AIDS care since 1984. Giorno began working with screen printing, creating the first Vinyl Paintings series in 1989 in collaboration with Edizioni Conz. The iconic font and the concise phrases placed on monochromatic or rainbow backgrounds were characteristic of Giorno’s recognizable visual practice from the 2000s onward. Giorno’s legacy is now preserved and promoted through the John Giorno Foundation. A major retrospective of Giorno’s works, curated by his husband Ugo Rondinone, was presented at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2015) and traveled on as a cross-institutional exhibition in numerous American galleries.

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