Visual artist Wallace Berman published and distributed nine issues of the assemblage magazine Semina between 1955 and 1964. Its circulation never exceeded a few hundred copies. You could not buy Semina; it was sent to you. Consequently, some claim it as the precursor to “mail art.” The poet Robert Duncan has said, “Semina was a cult magazine. It meant to reveal the possibility of the emergence of a new way of feeling. Cult means the cultivation of something…. Wallace Berman gathered writers and artists he knew that gave him a sense of his own personal identity, and of taking hold of the beginnings of his art.” In the words of writer Rebecca Solnit, “the magazine depicts the emerging subculture’s aesthetics, and its values.” Semina printed the work of two of Berman’s heroes, Hermann Hesse and Jean Cocteau, as well as W. B. Yeats, Paul Éluard, Charles Baudelaire, and Paul Valéry, alongside William S. Burroughs, Michael McClure, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, David Meltzer, e. i. alexander, Bob Kaufman, and Berman himself, writing under the pseudonym Pantale Xantos. Berman’s first exhibition, at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1957, resulted in his arrest for exhibiting “lewd and lascivious pornographic art.” He was found guilty and fined by the same judge who found Henry Miller guilty on similar charges. The motto of Semina 2, later the same year, was “ART IS LOVE IS GOD.” Wallace Berman was killed in an automobile accident near his home in Topanga Canyon in 1976 on his fiftieth birthday.
Semina 4 (1959). Cover by Wallace Berman.