Beat Era Maestros
by John Held, Jr.
Only Paule Anglim could pull off a gallery exhibition like this. She has deep pockets of trust and long standing relationships to draw from in this gathering of iconic San Francisco and Los Angeles artists of the Beat era. It’s a museum quality show that our local major museums can’t seem to pull together. The closest to come the past decade and change was the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition, “ Beat Culture and the New America 1950-1965,” which traveled to the De Young Museum in 1996. The Anglim exhibition draws on many of the same players: Wallace Berman, Cameron, George Herms, Bruce and Jean Conner, Jess, Jay Defeo, Joan Brown, Lawrence Jordan, Wally Hedrick.
The earliest work in the show, Wallace Berman’s, “Homage to Herman Hesse,” dates to 1949, a highly refined work produced after the artist’s short stint in a furniture factory. There’s work by Jess from 1952, and several Bruce Conner works from 1962. There are later period works as well, but this only serves to round out the various artists oeuvres. There are four works by Joan Brown created before 1960, including a portrait of Jay Defeo from 1958, which is a tiny gem. Defeo is represented by a large oil on canvas from 1984-1985, which could easily have been included in her recent retrospective.
I’m a Wallace Berman freak. He’s still relatively unknown despite his growing cult status. He was on the cover of The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and had an early solo show (1957) at the legendary Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. This show proved disastrous to his psyche. Berman busted for obscenity, having included a drawing of a nude by the artist Cameron in one of his assemblages, moved to San Francisco shortly thereafter. Cameron makes an appearance in the Anglim exhibition, represented by several drawings. Shaken by his bust, Berman stay in Northern California exerted a profound influence – spiritually as well as artistically. He is represented in the current show by his legendary verifax prints, the already alluded to early furniture piece, and facsimile copies of his mail art magazine, “Semina,” the reproductions overseen by George Herms, who is also represented in the exhibition by two late assemblages.
In addition to the Los Angeles artists cited above, “Sight Vision,” is also composed of a slew of San Francisco maestros of the era. Jess’s work is shown hot of the heels of his recent (June 9-September 1, 2013) Crocker Museum, Sacramento, showing, “An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan and Their Circle.” Jay Defeo enjoyed a recent major retrospective, opening at SFMOMA and traveling to the Whitney in New York, at which institution The Rose resides. Other featured artists in the exhibition – the Conners, Joan Brown, Wally Hedrick, Larry Jordan – are all staples in noteworthy shows on West Coast artists of the time period.
But artists like Hedrick are never shown enough to my mind. I’m still waiting for a major examination of his work. Jean Conner, too, is exhibited frequently in group shows, but has yet to receive her proper due. Like many artists wives, she lingers in the shadow of a celebrated husband. Her collages in the exhibition show her to be an exceptional talent, and no doubt her day will come.
Lawrence Jordan, who studied directly under the apprenticeship of Joseph Cornell is represented by two later boxes, as well as a showing of a four disc set of 2008’s, “The Lawrence Jordan Album. Joan Brown’s drawings show her to be the remarkable talent her oils display en masse. Taking over two rooms in the gallery, the exhibition is a great introduction to those wishing to know more about San Francisco and Los Angeles artistic scenes in the Beat era. Hopefully a local museum professional will pick up on it and give us an expanded picture of an exceptional period in California art history.
What’s on the horizon at Gallery Paule Anglim? An equally exciting second survey of regional art is scheduled November 13 – December 21, 2013, with an opening planned for Thursday, November 14. “Solid Concept VI,” features a succeeding wave of Bay Area artists associated with Conceptual Art, including David Ireland, Paul Kos, Tom Marioni, Terry Fox and others. Another show not to be missed!