Kohn Gallery recently staged “American Aleph,” a retrospective of the influential West Coast artist Wallace Berman (1926–1976). Mostly self-taught, Berman fueled his output with improvisation and irreverent DIY methods.
Artist. Visionary. Hipster. Mystic. Voracious consumer and conduit of modern culture. Wallace Berman immersed himself in all these guises, with a selftaught fervor and disarming sincerity. To those who know his artwork, he remains a uniquely prescient and compelling figure, even 50 years after his death in 1976, from a tragic accident caused by a drunk driver on the eve of his 50th birthday.
American art had been drawing from Sunday newspaper funnies in various ways long before Roy Lichtenstein’s painted comic books panels Popped onto the gallery scene. In 1950s New York, Robert Rauschenberg affixed Moon Mullins, Gasoline Alley, and Terry and the Pirates onto his paintings and assemblages, recontextualizing them with coded signals about his closeted desires.