Los Angeles

George Herms

Kohn Turner Gallery

George Herms is one of America’s major practitioners of assemblage art; his is an art that celebrates junk and that views salvaging it as a path to salvation. Rusty old objects are his favorite material. For his recent exhibition entitled “Project X (An Instant Elation),” he created a host of sculptural assemblages from the scraps of daily life and displayed them in the upper gallery, recreating his studio environment.

One of the most distinctive features of his art is its totemic, incantatory nature. The works often invoke devotional spaces, displaying the detritus of urban life as an assembly of sacred objects impregnated with transcendental mystery. One of the pieces in the show entitled Book of Perfection, 1994, is at once a bedroom dresser and a small side altar or shrine created out of bits and pieces of things—a rusty old kettle, part of a toilet-paper holder, a calendar with a strip of velvet glued along its edge, and an old desk blotter—that the artist has collected over the years. All this stuff was splayed across a piece of wood whose previous function remained unclear. This work, which resembled a piece of Victorian furniture, recalled uses of domestic furniture by artists like Ed Kienholz and Bruce Connor. Whereas these artists use old furniture to explore the sinister side of Victoriana, Herms celebrates the spirit that lies within the objects themselves. He has described his work as “the furniture of the soul” and his unending search is for the spirit that transcends the materialism of human existence.

The title of another piece, Apollinaire, 1994, a chipped coffee cup, was a direct allusion to what Apollinaire said about a worker’s old mug: he described it as having the essence of pathos, as “soaked with humanity.” But in Herms’ hands, the pathos and tone of lamentation registered by Apollinaire is transformed into a celebration of the rusty object. It’s as if he is awakening the spirit of the object by returning it to a hallowed place in our consciousness.

Herms sees his own odyssey as a perpetual voyage of the imagination. His undertaking is redemptive because he grants value to the worthless and sees the possibility of salvation in the irredeemable. A poem by David Meltzer, written for and about George Herms, refers to the artist as “George, the poet, the Pan of pun.” Pan is an apt choice. A nocturnal enchanter, the god Pan grants human powers to trees, flowers and animals. Like Pan, Herms infuses the twilight of the object with an aura of mystery and enchantment.

Rosetta Brooks