Wallace Berman ( American, 1926 - 1976 )

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General Description

Wallace Berman created his most important work in Los Angeles and was part of that city's Beat Generation artists and writers. His collages of pictures from newspapers, magazines, and other popular sources may seem reminiscent of those by fellow Californian Jess [1977.15], but Berman is ascetic and precise by comparison. His early forays into popular culture's trove of imagery roughly paralleled those of Andy Warhol, who in the late 1950s began the photo-mechanical investigations that resulted in the pop art explosion of the 1960s. Wallace Berman investigated the same territory, but for very different ends and with radically different and idiosyncratic results.

Berman used an early photocopy machine, the Verifax, to reproduce his carefully selected cutout images; often they appear solarized, or reversed in tonality. Berman then lay down these images in a regular grid that suggests some rationale, but definitively states none. Interested in the Kabbala, a text of Jewish mysticism (hence the small Hebrew letters placed around his pictures) Berman seems to be sending some kind of supernatural message; we see it transmitted by the small transistor radio framing the images. The radio appears in the hand of the artist, attesting to the work's creation and a trace of a human presence. Berman's mysterious work lets us consider our everyday culture as an archive for the future. Here he has already begun to codify it according to his own enigmatic system, which we can only intuit.

Excerpt from

Charles Wylie, "Untitled," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 279.

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