George Herms has poured most of his 76 years into making art out of found objects.
His 1960 work, "The Librarian," currently on display at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, is considered an icon of California's school of Assemblage Art, which broke new terrain at the time by challenging the canon of traditional sculpture. Abandoned books and other unwanted objects that Herms had rummaged from a Bay Area dump were grist for his artistic hommage to a small-town librarian.
"The sculptors wanted to use everything they saw out on the street, and that was called Assemblage Art," said Herms, who is noted as a founder of that school as well as a leading visual artist who emerged from the 1950s Beat movement.
"My whole trip is about values," added the artist, who has been living at a friend's house in Irvine for the past two years. "The things that are thrown away, I feel, still have life in art. They may not be functional but they still have another life — an aesthetic life."
Herms is one of five acclaimed members of an older generation of Southern California artists who have joined with a quintet of younger contemporary artists in an unusual collaboration this weekend at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach. "Two Schools of Cool," an exhibition of new experimental works created by five intergenerational pairs of artists, opens at OCMA on Sunday.
The exhibition, lasting through Jan. 22, will run parallel to "State of Mind: New California Art circa 1970," a separate exhibit that the museum is presenting under Pacific Standard Time, an unprecedented regional collaboration among arts and cultural institutions across the Southland.
"Two Schools of Cool" is the fruit of an idea proposed two years ago by the museum's curator, Sarah Bancroft, who won a Fellows of Contemporary Art Award to put an exhibition together around that idea.
"The exhibition is a creative laboratory where I asked artists to collaborate together in pairs," Bancroft said. "So there is, in each pair, an older artist who came to the fore in Los Angeles in the '60s or '70s. Each of them [is] part of the fabric of the Los Angeles art world and really the history of Los Angeles coming to the fore at that time and becoming a powerhouse in a kind of way that hadn't been before."
From the older pool of artists, Bancroft matched Herms and four of his contemporaries — John Baldessari, Ed Moses, Allen Ruppersberg and Llyn Foulkes — respectively with five younger artists: Sarah Cain, Shana Lutker, Robert Williams, Amanda Ross-Ho and Stanya Kahn.
Herms, Baldessari, Moses, Ruppersberg and Foulkes all are being feted under the Pacific Standard Time program, which focuses on how Southern Californians on the cutting-edge of art-making for their generation contributed to post-war American art until 1980. Older works by Baldessari and Ruppersberg that help frame that period also will be featured at "State of Mind." Herms' "The Librarian" is part of a PST exhibit that opened at the Getty on Oct. 1.
Among the intergenerational works going on display at OCMA, viewers can participate in a mixed-media installation by Baldessari and Lutker. One by one while being videotaped, viewers will be asked to rearrange some objects laid out on two tables. Viewers can see an installation by Ruppersberg and Russ-Ho featuring a giant binder, a green pedestal and slideshow with moving images and sounds.
They can also see very similar sets of paintings by Moses and Williams, who critique each others' work. According to Bancroft, Moses and Williams come from "opposite ends of the artistic spectrum."
Williams, for one, is a painter and illustrator who previously carved out a reputation as an underground cartoonist contributing to the fringe publication, Zap Comix, which produced the likes of Robert Crumb.
However, in the case of Herms — whom Bancroft paired with Sarah Cain, a 32-year-old Los Angeles artist — there were some strong similarities in their artistic practices, the curator said.
In separate interviews, both Herms and Cain, who have known each since 2005, spoke of a common love of language and a tendency to explore and experiment with words.
Cain described Herms as a kindred spirit who was generous in collaborating with her on the project and who treated her as a peer.
"Basically, we have a real love for living and a poetic approach to life," she said.
For his part, Herms described the collaboration as more of a "corroboration" and a "ping pong game," in which the two artists bounced ideas and elements of the project back-and-forth.
Their collective work, titled "Korral," comprises a number of abstract pieces made by each artist that appear to intersect in the middle of the space.
Cain's work breaks different planes. For example, one of her paintings in the piece continues from the canvas onto the wall and floor.
Herms calls one of the pieces that he contributed to the project "Lemon Bar."
The piece, which has nothing to do with citrus fruit in the literal sense, actually is an array of five different assemblage sculptures, including four that he made in his friend's backyard in Irvine.
"I make sculptures that fall over and I have thoughts that fly away," Herms said, divulging the story behind the piece's name. "So the sculptures that fall over, if that's my style, then a sculpture that does not fall over, is a lemon …. None of these fall over, so therefore we have something called the 'Lemon Bar.'"
If You Go:
What: "Two Schools of Cool"
Where: Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach
When: From Oct. 9 through Jan. 22
For museum hours and tickets: Go to http://www.ocma.net, or call (949) 759-1122