It was an historic evening at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, as famously infamous Curator Walter Hopps joined George Herms on stage for an evening of blather about their long and rich lives and careers. Herms is presenting a number of career surveys round and about town and the Hopps-curated "Hot Set" featuring his large scale Assemblages and Wall Art, had just opened at the Museum (and runs until May 14th).
A cavalcade of stars were on hand for the show. All but one or two, formerly beautiful, I am sure, and a couple of ladies at least, who'd taken the beauty art to it's surgical extreme, I'd say. Jory, the painter friend with whom I'd attended, and I, raised an appreciative eyebrow or two in approval of the work.
But the stars! Lets get back to the stars... Ed Ruscha (who had loaned work for the exhibition), rubbed shoulders with Al Ruppersberg and Joe Goode was around, looking a lot like Larry David, but he probably gets that the whole time. Dennis Hopper had also loaned work for the show, alas, we didn't see him there and Dean Stockwell, you never know.
George Herms is probably the last great living Assemblage artist (with all due respect to those who are or aren't...) and looks, well, from our seat, either weathered, too tanned or perhaps has picked up the sort of hygiene habits that made Ian Dury look scary from a distance. I don't know. Herms will always be associated with the Beat-era and his love for the jazz of that period informs much of everything he does. His influence is pervasive, far beyond the beat, far beyond the period and beyond these shores. Even recently when reading about the UK's Beauty Power Movement, Herms fingerprints seemed at hand.
How do we understand Herms wondrous works, his found art? The rust and the ramshackle hues? The textures and the textiles? The catalog is an essential extension of the show. A must have. There's a short printed conversation between Hopps and Herms, faithfully edited by Radhika Jones. But the jewel is the career-encompassing DVD in which Herms discusses each of his found pieces featured in the show, up-to and including this years' Thelonious Sphere Monk, let me call it a piano contraption. Each slide on the DVD is accompanied by Herms' narration; his laissez-faire, Californian timbre warming expressively to the moment and the memory each piece. "Kids, don't ever do this!" He recalls warning his children while leaping from his car on the Bay Bridge to retrieve some irresistible item of detritus. All this and not a mention of Harry Partch - a favorite for found stuff in this house.
Unfortunately since the opening of the show, legendary curator Walter Hopps passed away. Working it till the end. The Hopps and Herms Hot Set show capped their professional relationship spanning 50 years. Doubtless many of you are thinking precisely this. Herms' influence is everywhere. Why even the recycling guys manage to leave a reasonable facsimile of his work around the blue boxes most Tuesday mornings - only a deadline prevents me from reproducing a photo of their handiwork here. So, horribly then, what is art? It's a question Hopps himself asked rhetorically from the stage, recalling a conversation he'd had with Max Ernst, asking Ernst, "What is Art?" Ernst, without skipping a beat replied, "Art is what I make."
Sitting amongst this work selected by Hopps, listening to him reminisce and knowing of his influence over the past 50 years, it might be concluded that when it comes to What is Art? Art is what Walter Hopps says it is.
Images on this page, Roger Marshutz, photographer