Wallace Berman

Allen Ginsberg, Topanga Canyon, 1971 – Photograph by (and including) Wallace Berman,  Private Collection, © Estate of Wallace Berman

Wallace Berman – “Untitled (Allen Ginsberg)” (1960), Private Collection (© Estate of Wallace Berman; © Galerie Frank Elbaz, Paris)

Wallace Berman (1926-1976), a seminal figure (sic), died on this day (in an automobile accident near his home in Topanga Canyon, (L.A), on his fiftieth birthday).

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.

Holland Cotters review of that show  (it traveled later on to New York) can be read here
John Yau reviewed it in The Brooklyn Rail  
Barry Schwabsky reviews it here

“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.)

Even more astonishing, and of note, Berman even made it, as one of 58 people, onto the classic Peter Blake sleeve of The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper..”

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

Tosh Berman

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.

Verdant Press‘s useful check-list of miscellaneous Berman materials may be found – here 

The Estate of Wallace Berman, it should be noted, is now represented by the Kohn Gallery  – see here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *