Wallace Berman & Richard Prince

Michael Kohn Gallery recently opened a duo-artist exhibition SHE: Images of Women by Wallace Berman & Richard Prince on January 15th. The exhibition is situated within a loose conceptual framework that foregrounds both Wallace Berman and Richard Prince‘s representations of women within their oeuvre. The exhibit was curated by critic and journalist, Kristine McKenna. McKenna seemed particularly apt to curate the show, as in 2007 she co-wrote a monograph with Lorraine Wild that focused on Berman, entitled Wallace Berman Photographs. The book itself was selected as one of the 50 best art books of the year by the A.I.G.A.

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The opening itself was replete with art world heavy-weights, as well as some amusing celebrity appearances, including Pamela Anderson, who was very proud to showcase the works she had been a part of. This attendance seemed both particularly apt and also surreal given the respective artist’s aesthetics; Prince, who turns to glossy advertising culture, forging celebrity signatures and re-photographing iconic ads, and Berman, a near ascetic recluse involved in the revolutionary, avant-garde aesthetic of the Beats that rejected the pressures and demands of the collective American “dream” of the time.

Interestingly, a number of previously unseen single-image Verifax collages were on view by Wallace Berman. Berman, largely considered to be the grandfather of the assemblage movement, began making Verifax collages when he moved to Topanga Canyon in 1963 at the height of the artistic concentration, musical and otherwise, in the renowned enclave. The works themselves were comprised of printed images, derived from magazines and newspapers, mounted onto a flat surface, sometimes with large swaths of solid bright acrylic paint. Berman created these works, as well as rock assemblages, until his death in 1976.

Other highlights included rare editions of Berman’s handmade art and poetry zine, Semina. In the early 1950′s, Berman had become a prominent and active figure within Los Angeles and San Francisco’s beat community. Semina was created between both of the city hot-spots for cutting edge intellectualism, in the realms of both writing and art, and chronicled some of the most brilliant creatives of the time, including William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jess, Joan Brown, Robert Duncan, and John Altoon, among others.‚Ä® These hand-made zines were mailed out to Berman’s friends only, with 9 issues total, during the era of 1955- 1964. Richard Prince, an avid fan of Berman’s contributions to the west coast Beat scene, has himself collected a number of Semina copies.

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Richard Prince also debuted the piece No New Next–a 1986 El Camino with images from his Girlfriend series superimposed on the car’s body. No New Next playfully pokes fun at the relationship between men and their “objects of possession,” car culture and women tend to go hand in hand in a hypermasculine fantasy of ownership.

Prince’s Girlfriends series encapsulate a raunchy sexual power so extremely heightened they verge on comical. Perhaps Prince’s better known works, however, were his Nurse series. Begun in 2002, Prince appropriated the covers of pulp novels, studies in a contained sexuality that leak out, staining the entire canvas. Prince’s images have not been afraid to push the envelope, and at times, oscillate between a kind of fetishistic admiration and a similar-veined exploitation of women’s sexuality in the media and within the art world.

Though his sexually charged images of women landed him and arrest and conviction in 1957 for obscenity–Prince’s images simply mimic and mirror the ways in which American society have themselves offered up the image of the women. Lurking beneath it all, Prince is shoving a very satirical tongue far back in the recesses of his cheek–it is hilarious we should prosecute Prince’s works of art and not the blatantly vulgar advertisements presented by corporations today. In a conversation with the New York Times, curator Kristine McKenna said of Prince’s work: “I think he likes to be mischievous. When Richard makes this kind of work, you get the impression that it’s very playful, that he goes into it to figure out what it’s going to be.”

A comprehensive catalog of the works designed by Lorraine Wild of Green Dragon Office will accompany the exhibition. The catalog will include an essay by Kristine McKenna and an interview with Richard Prince. The catalog is published by Michael Kohn Gallery.

Established in Los Angeles in 1985, Michael Kohn Gallery has exhibited the work of 20th-century artists from Picasso to Warhol, Bruce Conner, Wallace Berman, and John McLaughlin, with a focus on representing the work of mid-career artists from California, New York, and Europe such as Maureen Gallace, Mark Innerst, James Nares, Darren Waterston, Guy Limone, and Walton Ford. The gallery also extends its programming to introduce emerging and established artists such as Los Angeles-based artists Christine Ngyuen, David Korty, Dennis Hollingsworth, and Mark Ryden.

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