Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle

Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle

by Elsa Longhauser
     
 

The quintessential visual artist of the Beat era, Wallace Berman (1926-1976) remains one of the best kept secrets of the late twentieth century. A crucial figure in California's postwar underground, Berman was a catalyst who traveled through many different worlds, transferring ideas and dreams from one circle to the next. His larger community is the subject of…  See more details below

Overview

The quintessential visual artist of the Beat era, Wallace Berman (1926-1976) remains one of the best kept secrets of the late twentieth century. A crucial figure in California's postwar underground, Berman was a catalyst who traveled through many different worlds, transferring ideas and dreams from one circle to the next. His larger community is the subject of Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle, a catalogue to the exhibition organized by the Santa Monica Muesum of Art including previously unexhibited works by 52 artists. Anchoring this publication is Semina, a loose-leaf art and poetry journal that Berman published in nine issues between 1955 and 1964. Although privately made and distributed to a mere handful of friends and sympathizers, Semina is a brilliant compendium of the most interesting artists and poets of its time. Showcasing the individuals who came to define a still potent strand of post-war beat counterculture, Semina Culture subtly outlines the energies, values, and foibles of this fascinating circle. Also reprduced here are works by various artists and writers who appear in Berman's own photographs--approximately 100 of which were recently developed from vintage negatives, and will be seen here for the first time.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
"The distinguished poet Michael McClure once described Semina, the meticulously handcrafted little magazine that artist Wallace Berman produced for friends in nine issues between 1955 and 1964, as "unwholesome" and "un-American." He meant those neutralizing terms as a compliment. "In the age where the eight-cylinder Buick, the grey flannel suit and the tract home represented wholesomeness," McClure wrote, "Semina was the ultimate unwholesome object, and we gloried in it." The homemade magazines vary in form. Some are simple folders with pockets, others are envelopes filled with clippings and still others are bound in a more conventional manner. All include combinations of poems, photographs, drawings, handwritten notes and collages, some made by Berman and others made by several dozen artist and writer friends. The nine issues usually appeared once a year (none appeared in 1956 and 1962, but two were printed in 1960). The show's impressive, abundantly illustrated catalog includes an annotated accounting of their contents.Semina was never sold. You couldn't subscribe or get it at the newsstand. You couldn't acquire it at a gallery. The catalog astutely traces relationships between Semina and the work of Surrealist poets such as Antonin Artaud and the mystical wing of Judaism represented by the Cabala. Another, more popular source goes unidentified, however, and given Berman's keen interest in the imagery and mechanics of mass media it seems too explicit to ignore. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd boy stumbled on seven rolls of ancient parchment hidden in a cave on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, had grown to some 800 ancient manuscripts, texts and fragments when 10 more caves were explored over the next decade. The aged Hebrew and Aramaic communication galvanized the scholarly and the public imagination, culminating in the 1955 book on the ancient papyri by America's preeminent literary critic, Edmund Wilson. Of course, when Berman began his publishing project in 1955, there was barely any art world at all in the United States, never mind in L.A.Today, when new art has merged with global public spectacle, it is easy to forget how minuscule the community of artists, poets and their followers was, until relatively recently. "Semina Culture" chronicles the formation of the first such postwar community in Los Angeles. A counterculture, it flowed easily between Northern and Southern California, and its crystallization was an essential feature of the content of Berman's extraordinary art."
September 28, 2005

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781933045108
Publisher:
D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers
Publication date:
09/15/2005
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
9.32(w) x 10.92(h) x 1.35(d)

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