Wallace Berman created a Beat poet's version of Pop Art.
Nicole Klagsbrun, through Sat 9.
by Anne Doran
Dec 31, 2009Jan 13, 2010
Artist, poet (under the pseudonym Pantale Xantos) and avatar of cool,
Wallace Berman was friend and mentor to a group of artists and
writers associated with California's Beat culture of the 1950s and
'60s. His fame within these circles was in contrast to his near-total
public obscurity: His only solo exhibition at a gallery during his
lifetimeat L.A.'s legendary Ferus Gallery in 1957was shut down by
the LAPD's vice squad the day it opened. Recent posthumous
exhibitions have emphasized Berman's activities as a collector and
disseminator of ideas, conducted largely through Semina, the
hand-printed, unbound art and literary journal he distributed to
friends. This show focuses on Berman's art, which was at once
hardboiled and ecstatic.
Works range from the youthful jazz-themed surrealist drawing that
graces the cover of a bebop LP to rocks painted with nonsensical
strings of Hebrew letters, to Berman's signature Verifax
photocollages. Included are rebuslike works that often featured the
multiplied image of a hand holding a transistor radio, with found
picturesmandalas, snakes, mushrooms, crosses, fighter jets, film
stars and porninserted in place of the radio's speaker. Aleph
(195666), his first and only movie, reprises the motifs of sex,
death and transformation found in the rest of the show.
If Berman's "seeing" radios have a spooky similarity to smart phones,
they couldn't be farther aparttheir transmissions proposed, instead
of a million subcultures of one, a single counterculture dedicated to
love, faith and art. "I send up my rocket to land on whatever planet
awaits it/preferably religious sweet planets no money..." wrote Allen
Ginsberg in 1958. By the 1960s, Warhol's more pragmatic arrangement
with consumer culture had prevailed. Perhaps though, there are
synesthetic life-forms on faraway worlds swaying to the syncopated
rhythms of Berman's transcendentalist Pop.