Art review: Tony Berlant at LA Louver


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Tony Berlant’s new works are simpler and more complex than anything he has exhibited over his long and productive career, which began nearly 50 years ago and has never slowed down or let up. At LA Louver, the 69-year-old artist’s 22nd solo show in Los Angeles features 16 sizzling pictures that break new ground by doing what Berlant does best: make works that turn the world inside-out in a way that makes it difficult for viewers to disentangle their emotions from everything else out there.

Berlant’s panels range in size and sentiment from the delicious intimacy of the approximately 2-foot-square ‘Waylaid’ to the electrifying excitement of the enveloping ‘Terrace,’ which, at 71/2 by 14 feet, is the show’s dazzling masterpiece.


All are landscapes. Some are more abstract than others. Kaleidoscopic patterns often spiral into focus, emerging from the splintered stew of fragmented shapes Berlant composes with methodical madness. Rorschach-style symmetry bubbles out of the primal soup in Berlant’s fluid fusions of abstraction and representation.

One of the most fascinating features of Berlant’s mixed-media images is that they seem to describe actual, three-dimensional spaces: parks and gardens, forests and ponds, lakes and caves. At the same time, they seem to rip reality’s fabric to shreds, poking so many holes in the space-time continuum that faraway places come crashing into the foreground as distant memories flood the moment and fantasies of the future unfold swiftly.

A technical innovation makes all this possible. For the last few decades, Berlant has printed images on sheets of tin, cut the tin with metal shears and then arranged the fragments into vast collages, nailing them to wood panels with thousands of tiny brads.

To make his new works, he has printed images directly on specially prepped panels, using an ink-jet printer to produce large-scale versions of photographs he took at the Château la Coste in the South of France. These supersized snapshots serve as the ground for his carefully cobbled collages. Sometimes he covers almost the entire photographic image, leaving only a few airy interruptions. At others, he covers less than half of the original image, using the glossy metal sections to disrupt pictorial coherence.

The combination of metal and wood, computer and collage, is powerful, disorienting, thrilling. There’s a ferocity to the visual glitches Berlant engineers. Think Pointillism for the digital age. Or high-tech Impressionism, with a dose of Futurism and a touch of Surrealism stirred in for kicks.

Berlant’s terrifically kinky palette, which tends toward chartreuse, cherry and midnight blue, adds to the hallucinatory strangeness of his pictures. None lets you sit still because all seem to be disintegrating before your eyes and reconfiguring themselves, with your perceptions an essential part of the picture.

-- David Pagel LA Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 822-4955, through Aug. 28. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Images: ‘Terrace’ (top) and ‘There and Back.’ Courtesy of LA Louver.