IDEAL HOME NOISE (9): BREAKDOWN, BERMAN, & GALEMBO
By JEFF JACKSON
WALLACE BERMAN: AMERICAN ALEPH
Edited by Claudia Bohn-Spector and Sam Mellon
Though he’s hardly a household name, Wallace Berman’s work casts a long shadow. He helped create the vibrant West Coast art scene of the 1960s, and was one of the luminaries featured on the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He’s been called a Beat artist and proto-Pop artist, but curator Johan Kugelberg more accurately describes him as “proto-punk, proto-DIY, and proto-appropriation art, and also post-Dada and post-Symbolist, and this and that, and whatever you want him to be.”
Berman’s multifaceted work refuses to fall into neat categories, which is why it’s remained a vital source of inspiration in the decades since his untimely death in 1976. He’s a major figure in American art whose true significance has yet to be fully realized.
The Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles recently mounted a Berman retrospective and their beautifully designed catalog serves as an excellent introduction to his work. It captures the full breadth of his output, including sculptures, collages, photographs, drawings, posters, film stills, mail art, and even images of pieces that are no longer extant.
There’s also a nod to his assemblage and literary magazine Semina, which lasted from 1955-64 and featured work from writers including Jean Cocteau, Herman Hesse, Robert Duncan, and John Wieners. For a deeper dive into this influential project, check out the recently reissued Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and his Circle.
American Aleph discusses Berman’s far-flung influences and the paths his work followed after an early gallery show was busted on obscenity charges. The catalog is most notable for the generous selection of Verifax collages he focused on during his final decade. These works feature a hand holding a transistor radio whose visual content continually changes: religious icons, politicians, pop stars, nudes, flowers, buildings, animals, and much more. They’re accompanied by Hebrew letters, deployed in ways that suggest mystical Kabbalistic associations.
This onslaught of images feels remarkably contemporary, leaving viewers to discern their own patterns and meanings. They’re mysteries whose depths remain unplumbed, transmissions vibrating on their own disruptive frequency.