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John Giorno.

With Aim to Celebrate Artist’s Creative and Political Legacy, John Giorno Foundation Names Elizabeth Dee as Director

In 1965, the New York–based artist, poet, and activist John Giorno established a nonprofit as part of an effort to collaborate with and uplift other creatives in the city’s downtown scene. Through the organization, which was called Giorno Poetry Systems, Inc., which was also  a record label, Giorno produced, distributed, and sold albums created by prominent poets, performers, and musicians, including Laurie Anderson and Allen Ginsburg. He then used the money earned from those sales to create grants for local artists, donate to bail funds for protesters in New York, and support other social and political causes in the postwar years.

Following Giorno’s death at age 82 in 2019, Giorno Poetry Systems, Inc. was transformed into the John Giorno Foundation, which aims to expand the nonprofit’s grant-making capacities and to preserve the artist’s vast, experimental output that spans painting, performance, and poetry. Elizabeth Dee, who showed Giorno’s work at her since-closed gallery in New York from 2015 to 2017, has been appointed director of the foundation. (She will continue to maintain her post at the helm of the Independent Art Fair, which she cofounded.)

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John Giorno.

The foundation’s board includes artist Ugo Rondinone, who was also Girono’s husband; Laura Hoptman, executive director of the Drawing Center in New York; Zurich-based dealer Eva Presenhuber, who also represents the artist’s estate; and philanthropist Mattias Herold.

In an interview, Dee told ARTnews that Giorno’s support for artists and activist efforts was “something he continued through his entire life,” and that “giving and organizing was a very big part of John’s work,” with Giorno Poetry Systems, Inc.’s emergency grants going to artists living with HIV/AIDS among those endeavors. 

The foundation, which will be based at 222 Bowery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where Giorno lived from 1966 until his death, plans to organize in-person programming when indoor gatherings are permitted to resume in New York City. (222 Bowery also houses part of the artist’s archive and a Buddhist shrine that Giorno used in his spiritual practice, and has also served as studio spaces for artists like Mark Rothko and Lynda Benglis.) For now the foundation is focused on the publication of Giorno’s autobiography, Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Death and Enlightenment, which is set to be released August 4, as well as a virtual John Giorno Poetry Day hosted by the Centre Pompidou in Paris with 13 cultural partners on September 19.

John changed my life in ways that were so powerful and this a chance for me to give back for what he really gave all of us in many ways,” Dee said of the artist, adding that he was a “very central and pivotal part” of her gallery’s program.

Speaking generally of the artist’s work and the newly formed foundation, Dee continued, “For him it was one complete body, one practice that had many factions.”

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