Artist Tony Berlant knows about relativity.

"What you think of as being big changes," says the Los Angeles-based artist. "One moment you think of something you can hold in one hand as big. Then a 6-foot work is big. Now 14 by 42 feet really does look big."

Berlant makes the statement because he is currently producing a 14-by-42-foot metal collage mural--when finished, the largest artwork he will ever have created. The work-in-progress, commissioned for display at San Francisco International Airport, will be shown in a solo exhibit opening Tuesday at the Municipal Art Gallery. "Tony Berlant, Recent Work, 1982-1987" represents a turning point in his career, he says.

Especially in the last two years, he says, "the scale of my work has gotten very large. It's a very different experience to stand in front of something that can't be conveniently placed on a wall above a couch, but becomes an environment in itself."

The airport mural is a view of San Francisco "seen through the Golden Gate Bridge," Berlant says, "but also filtered through a personal association with the city. So in some sense it's recognizable and naturalistic, and in another sense it's very subjective."

The exhibit will also include studies for two murals he has been commissioned to make for a planned Metro Rail station at Wilshire Boulevard and Alvarado. Berlant expects these works to be finished in about four years.

"The exhibit is interesting to me," he says, "because it shows where I've been and what I'm going toward."

About 60 other works, including several large-scale paintings and collages made from found metal on wood, will comprise the exhibit, running through April 19.

ARTISTS AND THE IRS: Learn helpful techniques to file your 1986 taxes and tax strategies for 1987 with "Relax With Tax," a seminar to help artists from all disciplines and art-related businesses understand income tax. The conference will be held Saturday at Loyola Law School, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

New tax regulations affecting artists in 1987 will be featured, as well as step-by-step instruction on how to file 1986 taxes for the self-employed. Other topics to be explored include allowable 1987 deductions, such as those for home studios, charitable contributions, hobby losses and business-related expenses.

The seminar, presented by the Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts--Los Angeles, will be held in South Hall on the law school campus, 1441 W. Olympic Blvd. The cost is $40, or $35 with pre-registration by March 16. Information: (213) 277-4610.

LAICA IS LOOKING: Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, a "couple of months" away from installing a new director, is seeking art project proposals.

Site-specific projects that "interact with the city are especially welcome," says a release soliciting proposals for its fall/winter schedule, from Sept. 1, 1987, to March 1, 1988. The institute will also consider curated group shows and public performance works. Prospective participants may send detailed project descriptions with a resume, budget and proposed site to: LAICA Exhibition Committee, 9021 Melrose Ave., Suite 203, Los Angeles 90069. A self-addressed, stamped envelope should accompany slides or other documentation. Information: (213) 276-0070.

The institute has operated under interim director Deborah Irmas for about a year, presenting satellite exhibitions around Los Angeles after vacating its Robertson Boulevard gallery complex last June. A debt of about $80,000 and several board and staff resignations and dismissals preceded the move and reorganization.

"We hope to have a new director in the next couple of months," said Irmas, who declined to offer possible candidates for the post. However, she has named three new LAICA board members: Dale Mason Cochran, a marketing analyst; Julia Bingham, a Walt Disney Co. attorney, and Daniel Pearlman, president of Pearlman Wohl Inc., an advertising/public relations firm.

The appointments bring LAICA's present board to 12, half the size permitted by its bylaws.

"We have more (board) positions to fill," Irmas said. "But, in an attempt to re-create this organization, we're selecting the new members in a much more responsible, careful way--we're not just bringing people on the board because they could talk about it at a cocktail party. You don't bring people on unless you know what their commitment is and you're certain, as much as possible, that their wishes and those of the organization correspond."

SPACE SHOT: If you think jetography sounds like pictures taken from a space ship, you're wrong--but you're not far off. It's a high-tech, computer-controlled photographic printing process.

Robert Heineckan is among several artists to use such contemporary techniques. Their works are on view in "Photographs From the Last Decade," opening Friday at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Sixty-five images by 56 European and American photographers are included in the exhibit, which features such artists as Susan Selter, Laurie Brown, Mark Kieh, Edmund Quppel, Joel Meyerowitz, Nicholas Nixon and Kenneth Shorr. More than half the works are color prints or mixed-media pieces. Many are large-scale and autobiographical. The show ends June 28.

ACQUISITIONS: The Museum of African American Art has acquired an ink-and-collage work by Charles White and a painting by Bernie Casey. The works were donated by Naomi Caryl, daughter of the late Joseph H. Hirshhorn, whose art collections are housed in Washington's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

WELCOME BACK: Art Institute of Chicago will reopen its Galleries of European Art on May 10. The reopening is the result of a two-year, multimillion-dollar renovation designed by the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The newly redone galleries will feature European paintings and sculpture from the 19th Century, including the institute's Old Master paintings and print and drawing masterworks from the 15th through the 19th centuries.

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