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George Herms papers, 1890-2009

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Herms (George) Papers

Biographical/Historical Note

The son of an agronomist, George Herms was born in Woodland, CA in 1935. While studying engineering at the University of California at Berkeley in 1953, Herms became fascinated with jazz and literature. He left school in 1954 and moved to Los Angeles, where he found a job as a tabulation operator for Douglas Aircraft and spent evenings in jazz clubs. In 1955, he met the Beat poet Robert Alexander and the assemblage artist Wallace Berman, and over the next two years solidified friendships with them, and also with Dean Stockwell, David Meltzer, and other artists and poets. He also helped Shirley and Wallace Berman assemble the hand-printed, personally distributed literary journal Semina. Soon Herms bought his own small hand-press and began printing poems, an activity that would become a lifetime enterprise known as Love Press. He also began to make assemblage collages out of machine parts, punch-card detritus, and beach trash. In 1957, he brought his assemblages together in a vacant lot for Secret Exhibition, a self-curated, solo show viewed only by Wallace Berman and John Reed, that was allowed to decompose in place after the show's end.

In 1960, Herms lived with his wife and daughter on a houseboat in Larkspur California, next to the Bermans' houseboat and to a houseboat that served as the Semina gallery. Herms showed his work at Semina and at Batman Gallery in San Francisco, where he displayed his first tableaux in 1961, including The Meat Market, made from meat stickers and refuse from the local dump. He also created The Poet, which was shown in the landmark 1961 Museum of Modern Art exhibition The Art of Assemblage. Since then, Herms' reputation as one of the foremost assemblage artists in America has steadily grown.

In 1965 Herms moved to Topanga Canyon near Los Angeles, and since then has lived mostly in Southern California, except for two years in Rome where he was a fellow at the American Academy. Due to multiple marriages, and perennial poverty, he has been evicted or forced to change residences countless times. In response to these crises, he developed a recurrent performance art series in which he auctioned off belongings to friends at a party and raffle that he called Tap City Circus.

A retrospective of his work curated by Walter Hopps, George Herms: Hot Set, was held at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 2005. Herms figured prominently in another exhibition, Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and his Circle, held at the Santa Monica Museum of Art and the Berkeley Art Museum in 2008.

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