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Art is Love is God

Semina and the Bohemian Subculture of Wallace Berman

Wallace Berman in a work from Semina №7

Semina was an experimental journal comprised of only nine issues, self-published by Wallace Berman from 1955 to 1964. Berman was a poet and artist who worked outside of the mainstream art world and was part of the counterculture milieu of musicians, writers and artists in and around Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s. He was inspired by jazz, drug and hippie culture (even appearing in Easy Rider), Romanticism, European avant-garde art movements, pornography and beat writers, and his output reflects the interdisciplinary, “art-as-life and life-as-art” spirit of the era. His visual work includes collage, photography, printmaking, film, early mail art and site-specific works and he also ran a small, shambling open-air gallery called Semina.

Photograph of Charlie Parker by Walter Hopps, from Semina №1 and a poem by Wallace Berman for his son Tosh, from Semina №7

In his small part in Easy Rider, Berman is in a commune, sowing seeds. This portrayal reflects how he approached art making, language, imagery, and his role in the artistic community: that of a disseminator, gathering packets of provocations, symbols and words to send to others. Semina was never sold, but simply mailed to friends and artists, dispersed like seeds, spreading the anti-art, romantic notions of this bohemian arts community in the secluded Topanga Canyon. This collection is a rare insight into the many scattered, oft-overlooked and vanguard movements that were happening adjacent to the dominant narratives of American art in the middle of the 20th century.

Semina was a cult magazine. It meant to reveal the possibility of the emergence of a new way of feeling. Cult means the cultivation of something…Wallace Berman gathered writers and artists he knew that gave him a sense of his own personal identity. — Robert Duncan, poet

On March 14th, Wright presents three original issues from Wallace Berman’s Semina magazine at auction.

This special collection comes from Louis Danziger, a graphic designer who became friends with Berman at the short-lived California School of Art around 1950, where they were both students. Danziger remembers Berman as initially, not that serious about art and would often find him making “fine pen line drawings of superhero types like Spiderman or jazz musicians. I don’t think I ever saw him in any classes.” They bonded over their mutual interest in jazz and Danziger credits their friend, Beat filmmaker Dion Vigne, with getting Berman more committed to creating art.

After school, Berman became known for his Verifax collages, the famous company he kept, his first and only ever exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, where he was arrested for showing works deemed pornographic, and Semina, a radical progenitor to mail art. Danziger and Berman remained close for years, even after Berman and his family relocated to the Bay Area, living on a houseboat in Larkspur, and would visit each other regularly, up until Berman’s death in 1976. Berman rarely sold his work, opting instead to disperse it among his friends and collaborators, keeping with the spirit of the Beat era and his anti-market, “life as art” attitude. Danziger received these copies of Semina in the mail from Berman, with one issue bearing the inscription “Lou — See you sometime soon. W.B.”



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