John Giorno

1936 – 2019
Silkscreen printed in colors, a fine, fresh impression of the only known state, the full sheet, printed on a smooth wove paper, to the edges, hand-signed, dated and numbered in pencil by the artist, executed in an edition of 100 examples (there were also XX Artist’s Proofs), printed and published by Edition Domberger, West Germany, with their blindstamp, in very fine condition, unframed. Executed in 1969 and published in 1971 as part of the On the Bowery portfolio, the present work, by all accounts, appears to be Giorno’s first signed and numbered work in the print medium – his first Poem-Print.

Born in New York City and was raised both in Brooklyn and the Long Island town of Roslyn Heights, Giorno attended high school at James Madison High School in Brooklyn and graduated from Columbia University in 1958. Always with an interest in the avant-garde, in 1962 he met Andy Warhol during Warhol's first New York Pop Art solo exhibit at Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery. They became lovers and Warhol remained an important influence for Giorno's developments in poetry, performance and recordings.

Warhol's 1964 silent film Sleep shows Giorno sleeping on camera for more than five hours. A lesser-known Warhol film featuring Giorno, John Washing (also 1963), runs a mere 4½ minutes. Giorno and Warhol are said to have remained very close until 1964, after which time their meetings were rare. Their relationship was revived somewhat in the last year before Warhol's death. Inspired by Warhol, and subsequent relationships with Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Giorno began applying Pop Art techniques of appropriation of found imagery to his poetry, producing The American Book of the Dead in 1964 (published in part in his first book, Poems, in 1967). Meetings with William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin in 1964 contributed to his interest in applying cut up and montage techniques to found texts, and (via Gysin) his first audio poem pieces, one of which was played at the Paris Museum
of Modern Art Biennale in 1965.

Inspired by Rauschenberg's Experiments in Art and Technology events of 1966, Giorno began making "Electronic Sensory Poetry Environments", working in collaboration with synthesizer creator Robert Moog and others to create psychedelic poetry installation/happenings at venues such as St. Mark's Church in New York. In 1965, Giorno founded a not-for-profit production company, Giorno Poetry Systems in order to connect poetry to new audiences, using innovative technologies. In 1967, Giorno organized the first Dial-A-Poem event at the Architectural League of New York, making short poems by various contemporary poets available over the telephone. The piece was repeated to considerable acclaim at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970, and resulted in a series of LP records compiling the
recordings, which were issued by Giorno Poetry Systems. Some of the poets and artists who recorded or collaborated with Giorno Poetry Systems were Burroughs, John Ashbery, Ted Berrigan, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Giorno's text-based poetry evolved rapidly in the late 1960s from direct appropriation of entire texts from newspapers, to montage of radically different types of textual material, to the development of his signature double column poems, which feature extensive use of repetition both across columns and down the page, as in the present work. This device allowed Giorno to mimic the echoes and distortions he was applying to his voice in performance.

A number of these poems were collected in Balling Buddha (1970). The poems also feature increasingly radical political content, and Giorno was involved in a number of protests against the Vietnam war. The present work relates to the protest and riot by UC Berkeley students on May 15, 1969. Also known as “Bloody Thursday”, student demonstrations reacted against the closing of the “People’s Park” by UC Berkeley officials, a place where students gathered for various events, including to protest the Vietnam War and where protestors, who eventually numbered close to 6,000 on that day were dispersed by police using tear gas and shotgun rounds with “00” birdshot pellets.