One is a great artist and the other a living legend of the 20th century who contributed to the affirmation of American art and culture along with Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol, whose bed he shared. Numéro met up with the two inseparable lovers.
Numéro: So how did an artist born in Switzerland in 1964 end up meeting a New York legend born in 1936?
John Giorno: In 1997 Ugo asked me if I’d take part in one of his exhibitions, after having been to one of my performances. The idea behind his installation was pretty amazing: speakers arranged in trees, which emitted not music, but poetry. Ugo wanted it to be my words. So we talked. We drank more than we should have. And we got stoned, obviously. And then we became lovers. It’s as simple as that. And it’s been thus for the last eighteen years…
How did the idea for this exhibition come about, the portrait of the poet, the artist, but also of the man John Giorno?
Ugo Rondinone: At the turn of the millennium I found out that John had been keeping personal archives since the 1960s.
They were classified by year and carefully stored in boxes. This treasure is the very source of the exhibition. It provided the material to make the works, particularly the big colourful tableaux.
John Giorno: I was very young when I started storing up this documentation. It was 1965 and I was already hanging out with writers from the Beat generation, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs... We were all totally broke at the time, and the idea of preserving what little we had seemed logical to us. So I started gathering texts, magazines and writings in these boxes that I would keep at the big family home that belonged to my parents. When they died after having lived there for fifty years, I had to move them someplace else, and that’s when Ugo discovered them… and threw himself into the pharaonic business of scanning several thousand documents. More than 11,000 I think [laughs].
How has the work of John Giorno marked the history of art?
Ugo Rondinone: John is a major player of the 1960s. He was the link between the writers of the Beat Generation and the Pop artists who he hung out with every day. It was during the sixties that American art and culture took over from the European supremacy.
John Giorno: And to think we had no such ambition [laughs]. Mostly we just took a lot of speed and wanted to make real all the ideas that came into our minds. In 1963 we went to a galley with Andy [Warhol] for a public reading. And there we were astounded to see there was no microphone for a performance in front of 200 people! Andy turned round and said something which became a leitmotif of his: “But why’s it so boring?” It was a good question. We started filming, reciting and “performing” poetry quite simply because the way it was being done at the time was boring.
Exhibition I Love John Giorno of Ugo Rondinone, at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, until Januray 10th 2016, www.palaisdetokyo.com.
Exhibition God Is Man Made of John Giorno at the Galerie Almine Rech, Paris, from November 21st to December 19th, www.alminerech.com.