New York

Wallace Berman

There is no longer any question that at least one part of art (and probably not that part of it which passes for high art) is given value on grounds extrinsic to the produced object—Beardsley, Duchamp, Ben Shahn and Larry Rivers, to pluck at random among differing levels of achievement, are cases in point. Certainly, Andy Warhol’s life style (as the current locution has it) is central to our vision of his production. I make these observations to suggest that were I from the West Coast I doubtless would have a considerably higher opinion of Wallace Berman's work than I did on seeing it here in New York for the first time. John Coplans's article on Berman (Artforum, March, 1964) apprised me of Berman's central influence on the coastal mode, particularly that of the assemblagists. Coplans cited George Herms, Bruce Connor and even Edward Kienholz, among others, the same group which James Monte (in his introduction to the jewish Museum's exhibition, Wallace Berman and Collage Verité) indicates as having come under Berman's ideas.

My impression is short of enthusiastic. To seriously credit Berman I must regard him as interesting vis-à-vis the fabrication of the work of art rather than as a purveyor of a finished product. But to consider Berman in terms of process makes something programmatically specious out of the whole Verifax affair, for if the act of creation take precedence over the product of creation why all the assiduous neatness of the dry-mounted, serially structured, framed and finished pictures?

Somewhere along the line Berman encountered two things, an office Verifax copying machine and a shot of a hand holding a transistor AM-FM radio. Substituting all manner of imagery for the radio case Berman found a set frame for an infinite series of pictures. The selectivity and composition—simple square units of square modules—is of a naïve order. One tends to read them rather than regard them. They adduce narrative possibilities foreign to Berman's copy-machine appetite for mass media illustration. In a representative work from Silent Series #8 for example, reading from the upper left hand corner to the lower right (perhaps the proper sequence should be from right to left considering the number of Hebrew indications throughout the work) one inspects nude, coins, militia, undecipherable spider, motorcyclist, figure, cross, machine part, machine part, church, football players, Indian, bird, blank, hand and wrench. The narrative projects an anxiety imagery exaggerated by the artist’s nonchalance and his complete subjugation to the pictorial means rather than its end.

Robert Pincus-Witten