Wallace Berman (February 18, 1926–February 18, 1976) is a crucial figure in the history of post-war American art and an icon of the California Beat movement. His personality and multifaceted body of work (collages, photography, graphic design, drawing, sculptures, and film) deeply influenced several generations of artists. His practice resonates with jazz, Jewish mysticism, and poetry that accompanied and inspired his work. According to Dennis Hopper, “he affected and influenced everybody seriously involved in the arts in Los Angeles in the 1950s. If there was a guru, he was it—the high priest, the holyman, the rabbi.” Walters Hopps recalled “his magical touch of wit.” Between 1953 and 1965, his small house on Crater Lane (Los Angeles) was the center of a community of artists : it was in his living room that the seeds for Semina Culture were sown, following the title of his famous journal Semina (1955–1964).
With his “Verifax collages,” record covers, Polaroid transfers, art and poetry journal, and filmmaking, Berman was among the first artists to appropriate mass, popular, and advertising imagery. His use of appropriation and his keen critique of the Modernist ideal of originality places him alongside the first generation of Pop artists as a major innovator. He was among the first Los Angeles-based artists who developed the potential of the photograph as an object that could be used as raw material for making art.
During his lifetime, Wallace Berman notably exhibited at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles (1957), and the Los Angeles Museum of Art and the Jewish Museum, New York (1968). His work has been shown in major surveys at the Camden Art Center, London (2008), the MAMCO Geneva (2000), the Institute of Contemporary Art, Amsterdam (1992), the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1978), and the Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles (1978).
Text and image: courtesy of the Estate of Wallace Berman and Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles
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