Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle at Grey Art Gallery
Before Debbie and I went to The Grey Gallery at NYU a couple of weeks ago, I knew nothing about Wallace Berman and the loose community of beatnik/hippie experimental artists who swirled around him in Southern California in the 1950s and '60s. But after about an hour of looking at these people's (often beautiful) portraits and reading their (often incisive) little bios and seeing their (sometimes engaging) artistic creations and even watching them play softball in an (often boring) movie by Toni Basil (yes, she of the "Oh-Mickey-you're-so-fine..." ditty), I couldn't help but feel a strange sense of misplaced longing, a sensation I call "nostalgia for a life I never had."
Semina refers to Berman's avant-garde magazine, which was a showcase of sorts for the poems, collages, photographs, drawings and writings of the members of his circle, and the complete nine-issue run (self-published between 1955 and 1964) is on display here. But most of the show is structured like this: photograph and brief write-up of an artist, how he or she is connected to Berman, accompanied by a few pieces of the person's work. The art itself is somewhat of a mixed bag—the highlights, as Debbie pointed out, being the terrific photography of the portraits themselves, as well as much of the collage work—but the show does an excellent job at capturing a time and a place and a specific creative energy. There is definitely an appealing, playful, even hopeful vibe to the whole exhibit, even though many of these men and women died young after living hard. Most of the more than 50 artists here were strangers to me, and the names I did recognize I usually knew from some other context, like Dean Stockwell, Bobby Driscoll, Dennis Hopper and the aforementioned Toni Basil.
The Grey Art Gallery at NYU is located at 100 Washington Square East (right across the street from the park); the Semina Culture show is free, and runs through March 31.