More than 300 rarely exhibited works by the artists, poets, and writers inspired by Beat artist Wallace Berman and his influential, free-form publication Semina.
Berkeley, CA, August 21, 2006 - The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is pleased to present Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and His Circle, an exhibition that explores the creative influence surrounding Beat-era artist, poet, and creative mentor Wallace Berman. The exhibition provides rich historicalsight into the Beat generation, with many rarely exhibited drawings, photographs, collages, poetry, and ephemera relating to forty-nine artists and writers who were key figures in America's counterculture of the 1950s and 60s, including Jay DeFeo, Bruce Conner, George Herms, Michael McClure, and David Meltzer. Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and His Circle opens on Wednesday, October 18, and runs though Sunday, December 10, 2006.
Between 1955 and 1964, artist Wallace Berman produced nine editions of Semina, a hand-printed, free-form art and poetry journal that he published several hundred at a time and distributed to friends, mostly through the mail. The first Semina was made up of an assortment of poems, drawings, collages, and photographs by Berman and his circle, and by poets and artists Berman admired from the past. Exhibition curator Michael Duncan writes in the catalogue, "Semina was sent out like a surprise communication from an erratic correspondent … and soon became an underground legend."
The first two and the last two editions of Semina were produced when Berman was living in Santa Monica, and the remainder when he lived in San Francisco. Most issues of Semina were unbound, allowing readers to rearrange the pages like elements in a collage. The magazine came as a reaction to the bland conformity and growing consumer mentality of Eisenhower-era America. It celebrated free expression and Berman's eclectic passions, which ranged from French poets Charles Baudelaire and Jean Cocteau to the Kabbalah and jazz.
At the time he was producing Semina, Berman's home served as an informal salon where young artists could gather and share ideas. Photographer Charles Brittin, who was himself part of Berman's circle, called it an "artistic dissemination center." "People came happily and sat down and left four hours later," he said. "What happened is that you'd listen to some music and smoke some pot and talk and look at things."
This is the first major museum exhibition to explore the significance of the charismatic Berman and the close-knit community that formed around him. On view will be more than fifty photographic portraits by Berman, many printed from vintage negatives and shown for the first time. In the exhibition, each artist or poet in Berman's circle is represented by a photographic portrait and a selection of their work.
Berman withdrew his work from public exhibition after his 1957 show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles was closed by the police and he was charged with public obscenity (the offending work, a drawing by Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel, is included in Semina Culture). He died in a motorcycle crash in 1976, the day before his fiftieth birthday. Berman's slogan "Art is Love is God" sums up his belief that life, religion, and aesthetics are inseparable.
The exhibition includes around 300 objects by forty-nine artists who worked around him: Robert Alexander, John Altoon, Toni Basi, Paul Beattie, Ray and Bonnie Bremser, Charles Brittin, Joan Brown, Cameron, Bruce Conner, Jean Conner, Jay DeFeo, Diane DiPrima, Kirby Doyle, Bobby Driscoll, Robert Duncan, Joe Dunn, Llyn Foulkes, Loree Foxx, Ralph Gibson, Allen Ginsberg, Billy Gray, George Herms, Jack Hirschman, Dennis Hopper, Billy Jahrmarkt, Jess, Lawrence Jordan, Patricia Jordan, Bob Kaufman, Philip Lamantia, William Margolis, Michael McClure, Taylor Mead, David Meltzer, Henry Miller, Stuart Perkoff, John Reed, Arthur Richer, Rachel Rosenthal, Jack Smith, Dean Stockwell, Ben Talbert, Russel Tamblyn, Aya (Tarlow), Edmund Teske, Zack Walsh, Lew Welch, and John Wieners.
Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle, a comprehensive exhibition catalogue with essays by curators Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna and contributions by Stephen Fredman and Raymond Foye. $50, hardcover. Contact the Museum Store at (510) 642-1475 or visit us online at http://bampfa.berkeley.edu/resources/museumstore_books/.
Wednesday, October 18, noon
Galleries 2 and 3
Senior Curator for Exhibitions Constance Lewallen gives an insider's-eye view of the exhibition galleries.
A Countercultural Circle: Wallace Berman and Semina
Tosh Berman, Diane DiPrima, Michael Duncan, George Herms, Michael McClure, Kristine McKenna, David Meltzer
Sunday, October 29, 2 p.m.
Preceded by an exhibition tour at 1 p.m.
Exhibition curators Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna will give a slide presentation illuminating works in the show and including photographs printed from recently uncovered vintage negatives. Wallace Berman's son Tosh Berman, himself a writer and publisher, will talk about growing up with Berman. Poets Diane DiPrima, David Meltzer, and Michael McClure will share their work and reflections, and artist George Herms will conclude the program with "a salute to Wallace at eighty."
Guided tours of the exhibition will be offered on selected Thursdays and Sundays by UC Berkeley. Check the website for details: http://bampfa.berkeley.edu/education/index.html.
The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Additional support is provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Bernard Osher Foundation, Packard Humanities Institute, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Columbia Foundation, the Christensen Fund, the William H. Donner Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Gap Inc., other private foundations and corporations, and our individual donors and members. Major endowment support has been provided by the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and by George Gund III.
Gap Inc. is proud to support First Impressions: Free First Thursdays at BAM/PFA. For more information about Free First Thursday gallery tours and screenings visit our website at bampfa.berkeley.edu.
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Located at 2626 Bancroft Way, just below College Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus.
Gallery and Museum Store Hours:
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General admission is $8; admission for seniors, disabled persons, non-UC Berkeley students, and young adults (13 – 17) is $5; admission for BAM/PFA members, UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty, and children under 12 is free; admission for group tours is $3 per person (to arrange a group tour, call  642-5188). Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month.
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