It feels like just yesterday when venues across the city presented the unprecedented “Ugo Rondinone: “I ♥ John Giorno” (it was 2017, but then what is time?). Nearly impossible to miss, the event was organized by his husband, artist Ugo Rondinone, and displayed Giorno’s multifaceted work alongside that of creators whom he inspired—an astonishing tribute. In this exhibition, Sperone Westwater’s second presentation of the late artist and poet’s work, something of that spirit of collaboration lives on in John Giorno performing I Don't Need it, I don't want it, and You Cheated Me Out of It, 1981 & Eating the Sky, 1978 (2015), a collaboration with Rondinone in which the text of Giorno’s poems appears on double-sided video screens, timed with a recording of Giorno’s reading them.
The main gallery makes a dramatic, two-story-high presentation of his black-and-white text paintings, whether lewd, wry, or enraged—“God is man made,” “Life is a killer,” “The world just makes me laugh.” These striking phrases resonate all the more for their bold presentation, with all-caps lettering and colloquial abbreviations such as THANX 4 NOTHING (2013) [pictured], all in a distinctive font developed for the artist. Three large singular works in the same vein, albeit with a touch of color, are displayed on the second floor of the gallery—similarly culling from his own poetry.
On the surface this exhibition presents the paintings for which the artist is best known—upon further introspection it is a reminder that Giorno’s legacy remains in a place unto its own. The late artist’s career spans far beyond his poetry and its translation on canvas—his nonprofit “Giorno Poetry Systems” began the “AIDS Treatment Project” which raised funds for those suffering from the epidemic in the 1980s and the ‘90s—and reflects other mediums which Giorno traversed over the years, including political activism.
John Giorno, THANX 4 NOTHING, 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches. Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.