WALLACE BERMAN & HIS CIRCLE
Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna
at the Santa Monica Museum of Art
Semina Culture, at the Santa Monica Museum of Art until November 26th, (and then touring nationwide), features Wallace Berman, the exceptional beat artist, a documentarian, agit prop articulator and photographer of some ill repute. Berman is regarded by many as the father of California assemblage movement. Semina Culture comprises in part, his original works, and a joyous photographic cavalcade of the acolytes of the world of Wallace. Believe me when I say, Wallace Berman had more famous friends than Joe Ambrose and that's saying something.
Born in Staten Island, New York. Berman's family moved to Los Angeles in the 30s. He was booted from High School for gambling. He dropped out of art school soon after enrolling and that probably saved him and us. God only knows how different the world might look had he endured the rigors of water color artistry at the Jepson Art School, or whatever.
He found his rhythm when working at what I'll call a furniture factory, we idealize factory workers - having only ever seen them on TV - he began sculpting the scraps and junk materials, the first stirrings of what was to become an assemblage movement.
By the time the 50s rolled around, he'd become a full time artist. He began his mail art publication, SEMINA, offering poetry and images of the beat scene. He was the beat journalist of the beat generation.
Established in Topanga Canyon by the early 60s, Berman famously made use of obsolete photocopying machines to create collages with images often culled from newspapers and magazines. He drew on symbols from his childhood and beyond. He eventually made it onto the cover of Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - 2 rows behind John Lennon, next to Tony Curtis. But c'mon, if I'd been alive I would have probably made the cover too.
Semina Culture, is a tremendous, wildly entertaining show. The walls teem with timeless images, oh probably because so many kids look just as unkempt today as they did back then. In one corner Dennis Hopper had wrested the camera from Berman and turned on his suitor, capturing Berman posturing with a fantastically bad posture, leaning on a Triumph motorcycle. Oh Wallace what a man in a world of artists.
It's impossible not to love Berman, without whom this article wouldn't exist, because without him, this magazine wouldn't exist. His influence these days, is simply everywhere.
Meanwhile outside, sponsor Hangar 1 Vodka was doing all it could to ensure we enjoyed the show. They did such a good job, it should be noted, that my compatriot suggested that we shouldn't attend events like these in the future. How does SMMoA manage to always get the great sponsors? Splendid conversation overheard outside too... Bomber jacketed Silver Fox, sidling into a group of younger women, so much younger I'd thought he must be looking for his daughter... "Yes, blah(where I live) is a very diverse city, very diverse, I live within walking distance of five ethnic restaurants." I know, you're going to be shocked to discover that the girls were having none of it. What I think I heard was "Fuck off back to your Prius you South Bay Art bore."
SEMINA CULTURE: WALLACE BERMAN & HIS CIRCLE at the Santa Monica Museum of Art until November 26th, 2005
Semina Culture is on the road for the next 18 months or so: Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University, Logan, Utah (January 10-March 15, 2006); the Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas (April 21-July 9, 2006); the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California (October 17-December 10, 2006); and The Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, New York (January 16-March 31, 2007).