There’s still two or three days left for New Yorkers to catch Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle, which is up at NYU’s Grey Gallery through March 31, and which makes this post my timeliest one yet. The show documents the underground scene that formed around Wallace Berman in California in the ‘50s and ‘60s, one that coalesced for a while around his unique, experimental journal Semina. It was a scene that could embrace both the Beats and Hollywood, but was not dragged down by either. (His devotees ranged from Allen Ginsberg to Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell.)
Of all the connections that the artworks on view could inspire, the most facile I could possibly hope to make is that between Berman’s Verifax collages (1964 on), his best-known series of work, and the design and marketing campaign for Apple’s new iPhone.
The Grey Gallery’s press release puts it better than I ever could:
“Anchored to the recurring motif of a handheld transistor radio, the Verifax works incorporated a vast vocabulary of found imagery that included 1960s Pop icons such as James Brown and Bob Dylan as well as sports photographs clipped from newspapers. In the Verifax collages, Berman also investigated Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah. Berman premiered a selection of them in an exhibition at his Beverly Glen studio in October 1965. Two months later the Berman home was destroyed in a mudslide.”
Berman was fascinated by the Hebrew letter aleph and incorporated it into many artworks, even using it as the title of his first and only film—the Hebrew alphabet, as we all know, being the building blocks of the universe in Kabbalah cosmology. Mainstream Hebrew creationism, on the other hand, was all about the Apple, a fruit whose frequent appearance in comparative mythology centered around its symbolism as a vessel for fertility and sexual knowledge, otherwise known as the transmission of seed, Latin word: Semina. (I know I shouldn’t push this point; Apple computers – like Berman’s journal, a California creation – credits its name to the inspiration of Isaac Newton; though Newton’s falling apple, I would counter, is the perfect intellectual symbol of the seed germinating the idea, as pregnant in its imagery as the lightbulb).
About the iPhone, too much has already been said.