A New Foundation Dedicated to the Late Artist John Giorno Will Transform His Bowery Home Into an Archive and Grant-Giving Hub

Continuing in the Buddhist traditions espoused by the artist, the foundation will give out artists grants and mount public programs. 

John Giorno in the Poetry Loft, 2018. Photo: Marco Anelli. Courtesy of the John Giorno Foundation.
John Giorno in the Poetry Loft, 2018. Photo: Marco Anelli. Courtesy of the John Giorno Foundation.

John Giorno, the protean poet, performer, activist, and artist who died last year, archived every moment of his creative life for more than 50 years. Now, a foundation has been formed to look over this trove and continue his mission of supporting artists through grants and programs.  

The foundation will take over the infrastructure of Giorno Poetry Systems, Inc. (GPS), the nonprofit the artist founded in 1965. Across five decades, the original organization took different forms, alternately serving as a record label for experimental recordings and a grant-giving apparatus through which Giorno funneled money from his art sales to support fellow poets and artists.

The Giorno Foundation will live at 222 Bowery, Giorno’s art-filled home where famous creatives crashed and performed and gathered for dinner parties. The artist, a Tibetan Buddhist, would host an annual fire prayer ceremony there on New Year’s Day.

Giorno’s archive, which contains more than 30,000 poems, press releases, photos, posters, artworks and other documents, will also be housed in the space. A laborious effort to digitize these materials is currently underway, but for now, a selection of archival snippets is on view on the foundation’s new website.

Elizabeth Dee and John Giorno at the afterparty for "I ❤︎ John Giorno" at PUBLIC Hotel, 2017. Photo: BFA. Courtesy of the John Giorno Foundation.

Elizabeth Dee and John Giorno at the afterparty for “I ❤︎ John Giorno” at PUBLIC Hotel, 2017. Photo: BFA. Courtesy of the John Giorno Foundation.

“It’s an epic artist archive,” says Elizabeth Dee, cofounder of the Independent art fair and a former gallerist who has been tapped to lead the foundation. “It’s also an archive of what was happening artistically and culturally in the New York scene and how that changed with different eras.” 

Dee, who first met Giorno after he gave a performance at Independent in 2014 and went on to show his work at her gallery, will maintain her position at the fair as she takes on the new role. “It was an opportunity to give back so much of what John gave all of us,” Dee says. 

John Giorno reading at St. Mark’s Church, 1974. Photo: Gianfranco Mantegna. Courtesy of the John Giorno Foundation.

John Giorno reading at St. Mark’s Church, 1974. Photo: Gianfranco Mantegna. Courtesy of the John Giorno Foundation.

Giorno’s longtime partner, artist Ugo Rondinone, will serve as the inaugural president of the foundation’s board. Drawing Center executive director Laura Hoptman and gallerist Eva Presenhuber are among the trustees.

Continuing in the Buddhist traditions of communal living and selfless giving espoused by the artist, the foundation will establish grant programs for artists (the details, including the number of awards and their financial value, are still being worked out) and public programs for them to share their work. The first example will take place this September when the foundation cosponsors a day’s worth of poetry readings dedicated to Giorno at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. 

In August, Giorno’s long-talked-about autobiography, Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Death and Enlightenment, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. After working on it for 25 years, Giorno finished the book just prior to his death from a heart attack in October 2019. 


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