Wennesland - A Heartbeat for the Beat Art

"Long before it even occurred to anyone that the visual art produced in the parks and streets of San Francisco in the late Fifties and early Sixties could be of any value whatsoever, indeed long before it even had a name, there lived a doctor in that city who saw beyond the health of the body alone. He saw a young post-war generation looking for an alternative; a generation growing up in a period of relentless affluence matched with powerful political tensions.

In USA the attention of young people turned towards with their political leaders and their ability to adapt to peace-time conditions. Europe was divided into two. Very many of Europe’s artistic and intellectual élite had moved to the USA. The artists and writers of the Beat Generation lived in one of the most dramatic periods of American history, marked by the Cold War and McCarthy's anti-communist witchhunt, fear of nuclear war and total annihilation, the fight for freedom of speech and Black Civil Rights. It was also a philistine and materialistic period when the Establishment turned a blind eye to these issues in a frantic scramble for wealth and status symbols.

All this was long before USA’s Vietnam policy turned into a quagmire, and several years before Scott McKenzie sang "If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair". However, it was at this time the world heard the first epoch-making readings of Allan Ginsburg's poetry. His most famous reading (of the poem "Howl") took place on October 13th 1955 at the Six Gallery Reading, where else but in San Francisco!

Back to Scott McKenzie whose verses sum up everything that was happening: ”All across the nation, such a strange vibration, people in motion. There's a whole generation with a new explanation, people in motion.”

A people in motion, a whole generation in motion! Among those on the move were some young artists seeking a new path through their pictures, a new path for themselves and for art itself. The centre was moving from east to west. The art metropolis New York that had radically redefined European modernism, was now losing its hegemony to the Sunshine State and its capital San Francisco.

In the centre of these events was a Norwegian doctor Reidar Wennesland from Kristiansand. He was among the first to see what was happening! Reidar Wennesland met these artists when they needed medical help. This was something that occurred frequently, as a result of their experimental lifestyle. They had heard that there was a doctor who acccepted paintings as payment for medical treatment. And he realised that pictures were their only means of payment.

Was this foresight on the part of Reidar Wennesland, or was it sheer philanthropy? The answer to this question is undoubtedly as complex and enigmatic as the man Wennesland himself. The result of his efforts is, however, clear enough. It is here in our midst: The world's largest collection of Beat Art, outside the USA, is here, in Kristiansand! We have been given a heritage to take care of, thanks to a doctor who collected art the world had not yet seen, well before the term Beat Art was invented and recognised. This is a commitment. We are left with no alternative but to rediscover Dr Reidar Wennesland's "heart beat for the art beat"."

Řystein Laundal