John Giorno Cherry Blossoms are Razor Blades
Morán Morán, in collaboration with the John Giorno Foundation, is pleased to present the artist’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, titled Cherry Blossoms are Razor Blades, on view from September 17–October 22, 2022. An opening will take place on Saturday, September 17th from 6-8PM at the gallery. The exhibition features selections of the artist’s verses from two prominent series of paintings, Black & White and Perfect Flowers, illuminating the dichotomies and modes of display within the artist’s body of work.
John Giorno (1936-2019) is recognised as one of the most innovative poets and artists of the twentieth century. His kaleidoscopic work fused and furthered poetry, visual art, and activism, pushing text off the printed page and into the social realm. Laura Hoptman, Executive Director of the Drawing Center, New York, writes in the publication for the Giorno retrospective at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, “What if concrete poetry and Pop Art merged, like perfect lovers? They would produce John Giorno, muse of the greatest single-word movie (Sleep, 1963) and author of found object word poetry… Giorno’s friendships with Warhol, then Burroughs, and subsequently, his close liaisons with Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, indicate his presence in the orbit of visual art rather than literature in New York.”
In the west gallery, six black-and-white paintings in positive and negative are installed on opposing walls. The suite of works is anchored by two site-specific wall murals, conceived during the artist’s lifetime and shown for the first time in the United States. Rendered as declarative statements, this body of work highlights Giorno’s uncanny wit and stark visual poetry. LIFE IS A KILLER (2012) and BIG EGO (2017-22) effectively punctuate moments of dark humor and frankness.
Uplifting linguistic phrases are presented in the east gallery in the Perfect Flowers series of wall paintings and a suite of works on canvas from 2017. Giorno’s writing in the early 2000s, during a very productive chapter, manifested the late flower paintings. Presented together, they provide a counterpoint to the first gallery, with vibrant color and seductive language employing the flower as a sly metaphor. The two-color palette dominates throughout, such as in works like LAVENDER LAUGHING LUSTFUL (2017) and HONEYSUCKLE EATING THE SMELL (2017). A wall mural, LILACS LUXURIOUSLY LICKING THE AIR (2007-22), oozes physicality while bathing the gallery in its pink hue.
The exhibition’s title, Cherry Blossoms are Razor Blades, perfectly articulates the duality inherent within Giorno’s work. The title’s sentiment also defines a polarity between the beauty and absurdity of everyday human existence. Connections within his unique personal practice embody all aspects of the artist’s biography equally, from artmaking, Tibetan Buddhism, poetry, performance, and activism.
A fully illustrated exhibition catalog, featuring an essay by Brontez Purnell alongside texts by a dozen contemporary poets including Monika Kariuki , Savannah Knoop, Mason J., Moses Leonardo Jeune, Slava Mogutin, Mel Ottenberg, Juan A. Ramirez, Cassie Sneider, Max Steele, Michael Todd, Alejandro Varela, and Sophia Wang, accompanies this exhibition. In the title essay of the exhibition catalog, Purnell writes: “The most exciting thing about Giorno was witnessing him as a muscular thinker – very rarely do we get to see an artist have a 60-year love affair with their work. His generosity, his insistence on an artist community, and his zealousness to grow, build, and experiment yielded so much radical fruit that has now become immortal. From writing, to performance, to soundscape, and eventually to painting, we witness from logical beginning to many different ends a true master (trickster?) at work. His tenacity and refusal to never cease the wheels of his own imagination is the very thing the craft of words demands.”
This is the gallery’s first presentation of the late artist’s work. John Giorno was the subject of the critically acclaimed retrospective, Ugo Rondinone: I ♥ John Giorno, presented at the Palais de Tokyo in 2015, ultimately traveling to 13 venues throughout New York in 2017. Other recent institutional exhibitions include You Got to Burn to Shine at Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome (2019); Call and Response: Recent Acquisitions from The Bass Collection, at The Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach (2017); Artists and Poets, at Secession, Vienna (2015); and Ecstatic Alphabets / Heaps of Language, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012). Giorno is represented in major collections including The Museum of Modern Art; Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris; Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM), Luxembourg; Pérez Art Museum Miami; and Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.
All images: Cherry Blossoms are Razor Blades, 2022, installation views. Photographs courtesy of Morán Morán