"George Herms and Sarah Bancroft: LOVE George Herms"
Rhythm and tone take center stage at residence-based gallery Testsite
Reviewed by Seth Orion Schwaiger, Fri., Sept. 19, 2014
"George Herms and Sarah Bancroft: LOVE George Herms"Testsite, 502 W. 33rd
Through Oct. 19
In a white cube, it's hard to imagine giving George Herms' works the attention they deserve, but in a home, the ephemera and found objects that he uses feel personally important, even loved. At Testsite, which doubles as a residence, Herms' work sustains this emotional tone. Instead of just texture and hue, these items feel like relics from an individual's past.
Walking through Testsite's door, the viewer is greeted with Seitz (after the curator who first championed the artist's work), an assemblage of found objects bursting through an antique frame. At first, it's difficult to visually discern what's going on, the composition being made of a warped mirror surface that defies spatial reasoning and that's further ornamented with a melted CD and aged mahjongg tiles. As soon as viewers get a grip on the physicality of Seitz, the reflections in its surface of nearby work pull them away and into a series of impeccably flat collages produced from old papers, receipts, and envelopes yellow with age.
With as restrained a palette as Herms uses in these works, color takes a backseat, and rhythm and composition become the foremost formal elements. These internal rhythms are reflected in the arrangement of the show; a group of five collages in the entryway serves as a chorus that's repeated by two similar groupings further into the gallery. Sculptural assemblages composed of found objects act as unique verses that delineate the refrains of the flat collage. Together, these sculptures and two-dimensional works move the viewer through the space.
Herms' appeal to the senses and wordplay shine through most in Lemon Bar. A small scrap of paper with the handwritten fragment "song for a lemon bar" rests in a plastic cube with an ivory-yellow mahjongg tile suspended over it, all supporting bits of dry and splintering wood and rusted metal. The work references each of the five senses – a feat in itself – but more interestingly, the viewer is put in a peculiar situation in which one can't help but associate this forgotten plastic game piece with a deliciously sweet morsel.
Herms is a good choice for Austin, given the city's appetite for collage and assemblage, but unlike some works in that vein whose artists' struggles and eventual triumphs over the materials seem so palpable, Herms' projects a sense of ease and inevitability. These works show little sign of the artist's hand, and despite many of his collages being unframed and his assemblages being made of decaying material caught in stasis, there is a tidiness and professionalism that is refreshing given the stereotypes associated with this genre. I did, however, wish for just one work to intentionally break out of that perfection and spill onto the wall or floor, make a bit of mess, and not be so easily collectible – but that's admittedly picky of me. The exhibition by more sound reasoning is a success. Curator Sarah Bancroft's craft is as polished as George Herms', and the two make for quite the duet.