Artist on the Brink

"In a lot of ways," says artist Tony Berlant, "Los Angeles is a fake city. It has a landscape of false stylization--all these jumbled, borrowed building styles next to each other. Looking at the L.A. landscape is like watching a bunch of people in an airport waiting room."

Berlant, who has a solo show at the L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice, discovered this city's contrasts and contradictions early. He remembers "growing up in Culver City and looking down into the (Lorimar) studio lots with their fake cities showing against the real city, their big fake skies jutting into the real sky."

This experience, and a fascination with Oriental screen paintings and scrolls, led the 46-year-old Berlant to use landscape and history as vital elements in his work.

Last month, the San Francisco International Airport unveiled his giant installation commissioned for its South Terminal. Titled "Dancing on the Brink of the World," the found-metal construction depicts the city's cultural history, beginning with a tall ship at sea and ending with the Golden Gate.

Regina Almaguer, curator of the Art in Public Places Program for the San Francisco Arts Commission, said that the public response to Berlant's airport piece "has been positive and overwhelming. We've been getting telephone calls about it every day--even while Tony was installing it. It's become a landmark itself; people stand in front of it to have their pictures taken."

"Dancing" is the first of a several recent commissions for Berlant. Last year, Berlant's proposed design for a mural depicting the history of Los Angeles for the unfinished MacArthur Park subway station was chosen by the RTD's Art in Transit program from among 638 entries.

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