John Giorno is a poet. His exhibition at Galerie Almine Rech can literally be read round the walls, from left to right. It's a very satisfying sensation, to approach visual art that can be simply read--the relative size and color of the different words, presented on canvases or stenciled directly on the walls, the repetition of certain phrases in different size frames, it all indicates how you should read the words, with what sort of emphasis, and how important those phrases are. It's an unambiguous visual treatment of plain old text.
Giorno became famous as one of the first Beat poets, friends with Ginsberg and Burroughs, and star of the Andy Warhol film Sleep (1963). Giorno's lifelong ambition is to, through various channels, open up poetry to a wider audience, through Performance Poetry (which directly influenced the development of the forum of poetry slams and spoken word performances), technology (Dial-A-Poem), music (he was counted as an influence by punk bands like Throbbing Gristle and Sonic Youth, among many others), and visual art (his Poem Paintings).
His Poem Paintings certainly attain their objective in appealing to another audience (though I'm not sure it "removes poetry from the elitist repertory" as being on view in a gallery in the Marais doesn't quite shake the elitism). I was fresh from listening to Kerouac's rambling poetry in Pull My Daisy, a poem you listen to while watching the scenes play out on screen. Here the visual representation has no sound or picture to distract from the words themselves. It's more about the very act of reading, an act of widening your view to take in a whole room, the act of walking from one end of the poem to another, that enhances the experience of the poem itself, removing it from its usual context of printed words on a leaf of a book, spreading the poetry all over the room.
My one disappointment with the exhibition is the two films on view featuring John Giorno performing his poetry, are shown on the same screen and the volume is so exceedingly quiet that you can't hear anything.
John Giorno and others, will be performing in Chatou on February 8th at cneai as part of the opening for the Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer exhibit, We'll Know Where When We Get There, running until May 3.
(*Images, from top to bottom: John Giorno, Life is a Killer, 2008, pencil on paper, 21,5 x 21,5 cm, courtesy of Galerie Almine Rech, Paris-Brussels. John Giorno, exhibition view Life is a Killer, January 10 - February 25, 2009; Galerie Almine Rech, courtesy Galerie Almine Rech, Paris-Brussels. John Giorno, exhibition view Life is a Killer, January 10 - February 25, 2009; Galerie Almine Rech, courtesy Galerie Almine Rech, Paris-Brussels. John Giorno, You Got to Burn to Shine, 2008, pencil on paper, 38,5 x 38,5 cm, courtesy Galerie Almine Rech, Paris-Brussels.
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