John Giorno, who died at 82 on Friday, was an artist who had an inimitable way with words. The early part of his career, during the 1950s and ’60s, was marked by experimentation with the sound and nature of poetry, and in the later part of his career, he worked prolifically, creating a series of paintings bearing powerful, memorable phrases.
To look back on Giorno’s long career, we’ve compiled a slideshow of his works. A number of his late piece are included here—examples of the phrases reproduced in these canvases are “A HURRICANE IN A DROP OF CUM” and “THANX 4 NOTHING.” Speaking in 2015, Giorno told ARTnews Executive Editor Andrew Russeth of these works, “You can’t read them. If you read them, you’re lost.” If one attempted to analyze them, though, one could say they allude to the erosion of conservative American values and the broadening of social mores.
Also included is one of Giorno’s early works, Dial-A-Poem, a service through which people can call a phone number to hear poetry read aloud to them. With poetry by the likes of John Cage and Joe Brainard included, Dial-A-Poem—which was shown in the Museum of Modern Art’s famed 1970 “Information” exhibition, a watershed moment for Conceptualism—liberated art from the confines of the museum, bringing it to anyone with access to a telephone.
Giorno’s career was idiosyncratic, and perhaps it is only fitting that he is most famous for a work that features no words and isn’t even by him: Andy Warhol’s Sleep (1964), a five-and-a-half hour film in which Giorno does just what its title says and only that. It’s now on view at MoMA.
See a slideshow of Giorno’s work below.