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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: George Herms papers
    Date (inclusive): 1890-2009
    Number: 2009.M.20
    Creator/Collector: Herms, George
    Physical Description: 231.7 Linear Feet (380 boxes, 65 flatfile folders)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: 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.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English

    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.

    Administrative Information


    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.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    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.

    Processing History

    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.

    Digitized material

    Selected material from series IV and series XII has been digitized http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2009m20bd.

    Separated Materials

    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 Assemblage(1961).
    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, 1959-2002, undated; Series VIII. Teaching materials, 1976-2001, undated; Series IX. Artworks, 1960-1980, undated; Series X. Personal, 1935-2003, undated; Series XI. Clippings and biography files, 1967-2000, undated; Series XII. Artist files, 1946-2002, undated; Series XIII. Books, 1890-1986; Series XIV. Serials, 1963-2009, undated; Series XV. Ephemera, 1957-2005, undated.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Topics

    Small presses -- United States
    Art, American -- 20th century
    Art, American -- California -- Los Angeles -- 20th century -- Exhibitions
    Public sculpture -- United States
    Assemblage (Art)

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Audiocasettes -- United States -- 20th century
    Screen prints
    Photographs, Original
    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


    Berman, Wallace
    Love Press
    Herms, George
    Stockwell, Dean
    American Academy in Rome
    Alexander, Robert
    Di Prima, Diane
    McClure, Michael
    Fee, James