Remembered as a gifted assemblage and collage artist, experimental filmmaker, and groundbreaking editor, he is perhaps best known for the legendary magazine, Semina,
whose nine issues (issued between 1955 and 1964, and sent through the mails, one by one, as individual copies), featured, amongst others, Allen, Robert Duncan, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, Bob Kaufman, Diane di Prima, John Wieners, Jack Hirschman, David Meltzer, William Burroughs… (the list goes on and on) – alongside, it should be noted, old heroes, like Hermann Hesse, Jean Cocteau, Charles Baudelaire, W. B. Yeats.., and an important group of contemporary West Coast artists (Bruce Conner, John Altoon, Jay DeFeo, George Herms, Jess, Cameron...
“Semina“, in the words of Robert Duncan, “was a cult magazine. It meant to reveal the possibility of the emergence of a new way of feeling. Cult means the cultivation of something…. Wallace Berman gathered writers and artists he knew that gave him a sense of his own personal identity, and of taking hold of the beginnings of his art.”
The magazine (and Berman himself) was the focus of a memorable exhibition in 2005 (originating at the Santa Monica Museum of Art), Semina Culture, Wallace Berman and His Circle, organized by two independent curators, Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna.
“If the journal put Wallace Berman’s name on the national countercultural grapevine”, Cotter points out, “his personal influence was still transmitted through artists and poets who met him”.
Among them, he cites “Hollywood actors like Dean Stockwell and Russ Tamblyn, who met Mr. Berman and started making art”, and, perhaps, most notably, Dennis Hopper, “who picked up photography and film directing” (and cast Berman in a small role as the (sic) commune seed-sower in his classic movie, Easy Rider.)
Berman’s visibility was given a significant jolt by the Semina show (and accompanying catalog). It was also further enhanced by the publication in 2019 of an engaging (and candid) memoir by his son, Tosh, Tosh – Growing Up In Wallace Berman’s World
Hear his extended conversation here with Sophie Dannemuller, an expert on Wallace Berman and curator of a number of Berman exhibitions for the Galerie Frank Elbaz, (notably a 2009 show and Visual Music (2018), (reviewed by Joseph Nechvatal for Hyperallergic here) .
Tosh Berman’s book, a dual-portrait, was widely reviewed
(Nechvatal’s review for Hyperallergic is here – John Yau also reviewed it for Hyperallergic).
Wendy Werris reviews it for Publisher’s Weekly
Marc Olmsted reviews it for Sensitive Skin
Robert Atkins comments in ArtNews
Recently, rather remarkably, the voice of Wallace Berman (along with his family – and Jack Hirschman, along with his family) – a previously unknown and unpublished recording, from 1968, surreptitiously recorded by curator Hal Glicksman as part of his research for his 1968 Assemblages show was discovered – see here
Here‘s Alan Licht in Artforum on that remarkable recording
The spirit and the legend of Wallace Berman lives on.
The Estate of Wallace Berman, it should be noted, is now represented by the Kohn Gallery – see here –