Scope and Content of Collection
Title: George Herms papers
Date (inclusive): 1890-2009
231.7 Linear Feet
(380 boxes, 65 flatfile folders)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
Southern California artist, writer, and
musician George Herms was one of the founders of the West Coast assemblage movement.
Influenced by the art of his close friend Wallace Berman, his work brings together discards,
beach trash, urban detritus and other "found objects" to create a highly original and
personal mix of collage, sculpture, and assemblage. The bulk of the papers comprise full
documentation of Herms' life and work from 1960-2000.
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Language: Collection material is in English
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.
Open for use by qualified researchers except for Box 20, folder 8, which is sealed for
Catherine Morehead's lifetime, and Box 136, folder 10, which is sealed until 2084.
George Herms Papers, 1890-2009 (bulk 1960-2000), The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles,
Accession no. 2009.M.20
Gift of George Herms in 2009.
George Herms and Sarah Anderson did the initial processing of the first portion of the
archive and prepared a rough box list over the course of two years, from circa 2006 to 2008.
In 2009, Sheila Prospero processed the latter part of the archive and organized it into
series that Herms helped develop. In 2010, Annette Leddy, Emmabeth Nanol and Jan Bender
organized and integrated the two portions of the archive into these series, slightly
adjusting them, and divided up the series for further processing and cataloging.
Emmabeth Nanol processed and cataloged Series I, II, V, VIII, IX, and XI. She and Jan
Bender cataloged Series XII. Jan Bender processed Series X, XII, and XV. Annette Leddy
processed and cataloged Series III, IV, VI, VII, XIII, and XIV, and also supervised the
project and prepared the notes and records.
Box-level cataloging is complete, and certain series have been cataloged at the folder
level. Series IV has been cataloged at the folder level up to 1980 only. Three boxes,
temporarily assigned numbers 378, 379 and 380, contain materials from all series, but mostly
from Series XV, that need further conservation, after which they will be integrated into the
collection. Box 376*, containing miscellaneous material and ephemera, needs further
conservation as well.
Laura Schroffel transferred digital content on August 22, 2017.
Selected material from series IV and series XII has been digitized http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2009m20bd.
146 monographs and 167 serials were transferred to the library's general collection. These
publications may be found in the library catalog by searching for George Herms in the
Provenance/Source Collection field.
Scope and Content of Collection
The George Herms papers document the activity of an artist whose diverse practice comprises
interconnected works in the fields of assemblage, collage, drawing, painting, poetry,
theater, performance art, photography, and publishing. Arranged in series developed in
collaboration with the artist, the bulk of the collection begins in the late 1950s and early
1960s, when Herms first showed at Semina Gallery and at Batman Gallery and was invited to
lend his assemblage,
The Poet, to MoMA's exhibition, The Art of
Series I. Personal correspondence comprises letters from Herms' various wives, his
children, and from long time friends among the Semina artists and poets, such as Diane Di
Prima, Michael McClure, Wallace Berman, and Jess. The work of these artists and many others
are also represented in Series XII. Artist files, while announcements for their exhibitions,
and Herms' numerous solo and group shows, appear in Series XV. Ephemera. Herms' working
notes, sketches and astrological charts can be studied in his journals in Series III, which
take the form of unbound pages. Series IV. Project and exhibition files, contains a large
number of photographs, including studio and installation views, as well as Herms'
photographic experiments from the Topanga years and photographs of the Los Angeles art
scene. Artifacts from Tap City Circus and Love Press comprise Series VI and VII.
Arranged in fifteen series:
Series I. Personal correspondence, 1950-2002, undated;
Series II. Professional
correspondence, 1962-2005, undated;
Series III. Journals and
working notes, 1960-2009, undated;
Series IV. Project and
exhibition files, 1958-2001, undated;
Series V. Research
materials, 1913-2009, undated;
Series VI. Tap City
Circus, 1960-2002, undated;
Series VII. Love Press,
Series VIII. Teaching
materials, 1976-2001, undated;
Series IX. Artworks,
Series X. Personal,
Series XI. Clippings and
biography files, 1967-2000, undated;
Series XII. Artist
files, 1946-2002, undated;
Series XIII. Books,
Series XIV. Serials,
Series XV. Ephemera,
Subjects - Topics
Small presses -- United States
Art, American -- 20th century
Art, American -- California -- Los Angeles -- 20th century --
Public sculpture -- United States
Genres and Forms of Material
Audiocasettes -- United States -- 20th century
Video recordings -- United States -- 20th century
Drawings (visual works) -- 20th century
Photographic prints -- California -- 20th century
Correspondence -- 20th century
Collages (visual works)
Posters -- United States -- 20th century
American Academy in Rome
Di Prima, Diane