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George Herms

American, b. 1935

Pure XX
circa 1961

Assemblage of found objects
24 x 14.375 x 8.75 in.
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

In the late 1950s George Herms and fellow beat generation artists Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, and Edward Kienholz pioneered the genre known as California assemblage. Sharing a philosophy promoted by beat poet Allen Ginsberg in his groundbreaking poem “Howl,” these artists believed, as Ginsberg put it, that “everything is holy.”

In keeping with the idea that spirituality exists within all material things, the beat artists had a reverence for the most common materials, including rubbish and detritus. Many, in fact, used disposable junk as fodder for building sculptural altars and crosses. To create Pure XX, Herms used a single protruding nail as a reference to crucifixion, and replaced the traditional body of Christ with a corroded Purex bleach container, its label, a vintage Packard hubcap pressed against an old cloth, a news clipping about a drug bust, and a photographic image of the head of a Buddhist sculpture. By affixing the Buddhist image to a Christian cross, Herms expresses a holistic view of religion, suggesting that all forms of religious practice are equally valid.

Herms has often used wordplay in his art and, in this example, the title is a pun on one of the materials used to make the work. Additionally, since 1957 the artist has stamped each of his artworks with his signature logo, the word LOVE with a reversed E. By cleverly positioning his insignia directly beneath the Purex label, he draws a clever analogy between a personal and a commercial logo.

He originally developed this logo from the inscription LOVE—ETAH, an embodiment of the observation that love is hate reversed. Put another way, the artist’s basic philosophy is that peace can come about only when hate recycles itself to become ongoing love.

David S. Rubin

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This object has the following keywords:
  • Buddhas
  • crucifixes - Visual works in the shape of a cross having the figure of Christ crucified.
  • Religion
  • religious objects - Broadly, objects associated with or used in public or private religious worship in any culture. For those specifically venerated, especially in an extinct culture or religion, see "cult objects."
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