TONY BERLANT: TILT IN TIME AT THE TELLURIDE GALLERY OF FINE ART
TELLURIDE, COLO —Telluride Gallery of Fine Art is pleased to present Tilt in Time, a solo exhibition by Tony Berlant running from Dec.14, 2018–Jan. 14, 2019. There will be an opening reception, attended by the artist, on Dec. 28 from 5 p.m.–7 p.m. This is the artist’s first exhibition with the gallery. The works on view span the last decade of the artist’s career.
Throughout Berlant’s multi-decade career as an artist he has honed a complex, image-based aesthetic made through the modest materials of tin and nails. While his process of assembly resembles that of a simple carpenter, his dynamic compositions are anything but. Rather, they are psychedelic explosions that compress pattern and form into alien landscapes. Still, he approaches his process with an earnest work ethic. Berlant explains: “I love the labor and the process of making.” The nails act as a means to adhere tin to board, yet also bedazzle Berlant’s compositions like the stud work in a cowboy boot; their ornamental repetition allows for structure under the (at times) cacophonous collages.
Berlant was first drawn to printed tin signage when a shop near his studio in Los Angeles closed down in the ‘60s and left behind a discarded sign. Upon investigating, Berlant found not one, but several abandoned tin signs wedged behind the first one. Like a time capsule, or an archeological site, each sign indexed to a disparate time, deckled by weathering and age into various states of rust and legibility. They soon made their way into Berlant’s studio where his curiosity led him to cut them apart and play with rearranging them in new ways. As a contemporary of the Cool School artists, Berlant came up with Bryce Martin, Donald Judd, Ken Price, Ed Moses, and John McCracken. As many of Berlant’s contemporaries have recently passed, he has noted the strange phenomenon of the artists’ absence, but their work living on. Over the last few years Berlant is becoming increasingly biographical, using his work as a way to cite a certain time and place, and his role therein. Family members, including his wife Helen and daughter Kate, have become subjects in Berlant’s work—this turn inward is perhaps an effort to memorialize immediate experiences and relationships, so they, too, might live on well into the future. Often less distorted or worked over, the portraits of family members embody a notable sincerity.
Berlant has also included his own portrait in recent works via a set of Polaroids that Andy Warhol shot of him in the early ‘70s. “I used that Warhol photograph of me as a touchstone…an homage, a remembrance of Warhol,” Berlant explains. “He was very opaque in a certain way but very considerate and generous to myself and other artists.” Decades ago, Warhol did a photo shoot with Berlant to use for a painting that was never realized. Recently, Warhol’s estate found the full set of 48 images and sent them to Berlant (“It’s the only picture of me ever taken with my shirt off!”). Indeed, in Within and Without (2017) we see Berlant as a young man: the image is washed in a gradient of blues, and without the distinguishing eye or shock of hair edging in to the top of the work his figure would appear somewhat abstract. The portrait is garnished with an overlaid scribble that belies the bluntness of tin snips and instead has the buoyancy of pencil to paper or, more fittingly today, finger to trackpad.
Before there was Photoshop there was Berlant, cutting, cropping, and blending images into unexpected and trippy arrangements. Though his process of cut and collage is analogue, his work remains particularly potent in today’s image-based culture. He relates today’s flood of images to ocean waves continually lapping on the shore (“there are just so many!”). The maximal aestheticmirrors the ways in which we send and receive information in our ever-connected world. Still, Berlant insists on individual interpretation of his works: “It’s this combination of very literal depiction and highly subjective images all mixed up together which is the way I think we all actually perceive reality. We don’t actually have a neutral gaze.” In this way, in an increasingly homogenized world, Berlant elbows out room for individual interpretation, perspective and voice. Works such as Luck of the Draw or Tilt in Time (both 2011) project organic abstractions over the natural environment, all organized under a canopy of Yves Kline blue. Though Berlant sites us in nature by depicting lush foliage, he disrupts any semblance of locale by overlaying brooding shapes and forms over our perceived Eden.
While a notable artist hailing from the legendary L.A. years of Bob’s Beanery and The Cool School, Berlant’s recent oeuvre collapses the artist’s multifaceted interests, exposing an autobiographical record keeping. Art critic David Pagel describes the curiosity in his work as “…profound and infectious. Tony Berlant is living proof that form matters.” All the while, this deeply personal output remains relevant to a modern era of iPhones and Instagram feeds—Berlant’s cacophony of images, rolling on like waves on the shore.
Berlant was born in New York in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter, where he received his BA, MA, and MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. He also taught at his alma mater for four years in the ‘60s. Berlant has exhibited internationally and was included in notable exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; the Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. His work is included in the public collections of a number of institutions including the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City.
Berlant’s interest in collecting and studying anthropological artifacts has led to two books and subsequent curated exhibitions. First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone, was co-authored with the anthropologist Thomas Wynn, and culminated in a curated exhibition which debuted at The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and will travel elsewhere. His research into Mimbres pottery has prompted the recent exhibition, Decoding Mimbres Painting: Ancient Ceramics of the American Southwest at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles. A book by the same title in collaboration with Evan Maurer and Julia Burtenshaw was also produced. Berlant was also pivotal in founding the Mimbres Foundation, a group dedicated to the research and preservation of Mimbres pottery.
Additional events include an art walk, organized by Telluride Arts Foundation, that will take place on Jan. 3 from 5 p.m.–8 p.m. Telluride Gallery of Fine Art has produced a short film of Berlant in his studio which will be available to view in the gallery and on their website beginning Dec. 7: https://www.telluridegallery.com/. The exhibition will feature a catalogue, including an essay by the art critic David Pagel, who has long maintained interest in Berlant’s work. Pagel reviews exhibitions regularly for The Los Angeles Times, and has published reviews, features, and essays in Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art, Frieze, and Art Issues, where he was reviews editor (1998-2001).