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The Librarian, 1960

George Herms

American, 1935-
Assemblage: wood box, papers, books, loving cup, and painted stool
57 x 63 x 21 in. (144.8 x 160 x 53.3 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Molly Barnes
© 2008 George Herms

Not on view

Cast-off furniture and assorted materials have inspired the romantic, melancholic and witty assemblages of sculptor George Herms. As heir to Duchamp and his readymades, Herms replaces the cool, cerebral sensibility of the French artist with an intuitive practice that draws deeply from his own reservoir of personal experiences. This sculpture, an homage to a librarian in a small town, was created from the jettisoned books of someone’s library. Herms orchestrated the objects with an eye to shape, scale and overall composition. According to the artist, he treated each object as a geometric shape; nothing was haphazard, and the poetic and literary references that may be drawn from specific books are secondary to the process of creation. As with any still life, Herms’s Librarian occupies an ambivalent space between art and symbolism.

The iconic character of The Librarian is impressive nonetheless. The work intrinsically calls to mind death and decay, and its commentary on rampant materialism and the ephemeral nature of possessions has been duly noted. Coinciding with these negative associations are more positive ones, including regeneration and the artist’s self-proclaimed goal to “spiritualize materialistic civilization.” This range of associations reflects the link between The Librarian and the still-life tradition.

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