Wallace Berman

Wallace Berman

1926–1976
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Wallace Berman was a seminal artist of the Beat Generation and a crucial figure in the history of twentieth-century postwar California art. Berman was at the center of a circle of artists, writers, and musicians, who fused poetry, jazz, ritual, and art to create an idiom that was dually expressive of both hope and disaffection.
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Considered the father of California assemblage along with Bruce Connor, Berman is also well known for his folio journal called Semina (1955–1964). A collection of photos, poetry, calligraphy, and art printed on cards that he sent in a limited edition to friends and colleagues, Semina is highly valued as a quintessential Beat art form. However, Berman’s photomechanical prints, or Verifax collages, were his largest body of work.
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Not only did Berman tune into the culture and pluck out things he was interested in, creating a visual diary of the time, he also subverted the social message through his presentation. Berman liberally used Hebrew letters as both decorative element and kabalistic symbol as a way to assert his Jewish identity and his orientation toward the mystical. Such surrealist juxtaposition and mysticism impart new meaning to Berman’s images. What results is a sort of poetic language of the soul, a twentieth-century iconography, in which spacemen and presidents replace saints. And though his work can be read as a form of pop art, Berman’s “distancing” reads more like hermeticism, or very potent poetry.
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An enigmatic personality with an aristocratic bearing, Berman had a brief and intense life. He died on his fiftieth birthday, killed by a drunk driver in Topanga Canyon.

Untitled
Verifax collage, c. 1972
11-3/4 x 12-7/8 inches
Gift of Ruth and Murray Gribin
2001.010.028