Art Basel Miami Beach 2017

At the Bass Museum, a Quick Poetic Message

John Giorno, Dial-a-Poem, 1969–2013.


Ugo Rondinone has a large show on view at the freshly expanded Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach right now, and it features his wildly dressed clowns, his mirrored windows, and walls painted a gradient that slides from mustard yellow to luscious lilac. It is, to say the least, an Instagram user’s heaven.

Tucked along a wall on the ground floor of the museum, in contrast, is something a bit more subtle, and not a little touching: a rotary phone bearing the work Dial-a-Poem (1969–2013) by Rondinone’s longtime partner, John Giorno. It’s in the museum’s collection, a gift from the businessman and collector George Lindemann, Jr.

The original premise of the piece was that—as its title suggests—you could dial a number and hear a poem being played on an answering machine, as ARTnews editor-in-chief Sarah Douglas recently discussed. Nowadays, those poems, by folks like John Cage, Anne Waldman, and William Burroughs, exist as MP3s that play through the receiver.

When I picked up the phone this morning (there’s no dialing necessary in this digital age), Joe Brainard came on, reading selections from his classic I Remember (1970). Here are some lines:

“I remember not winning at bingo.”

“I remember cherry Cokes.”

“I remember the people who only went to church on Easter and Christmas.”

“I remember pink lemonade.”

And there is this, which feels perfect for Miami Beach during Art Basel, a time of hedonism and excess, of high-stakes successes and failures:

“I remember my first time attempt at a threesome. It didn’t come off.”

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