Tony Berlant’s art is all about the detail. His compositions can be read from across the room, but it is in close proximity that their brilliance truly comes into view. The incredibly intricacy of each composition comes together in his latest exhibition, “Tony Berlant: Fast Forward” at Los Angeles’ Kohn Gallery.

In this captivating showcase by the septuagenarian artist, one finds the continued experimentation with the collage like technique that Berlant pioneered in the 1960s. His approach to collage then was novel: rather than the simply layering of cut out materials, Berlant explore the meticulous construction of such forms with miniscule wedges of printed metal that he would then carefully nail into place with steel brads. Such a technique played with the conventions of surface, but it was also inspired during the rise of the West Coast Pop Art movement, and he has carried the mantle of that movement ever since.

In this new showcase, “Fast Forward,” Berlant continues this investigation of surface and of pop-culture reference in a dynamic new sampling of works. Particularly intriguing about this current installation is that he toys with the role of abstraction in his work, manipulating the clarity of these seemingly collaged works with a visual layering of form and technique. In some works, like Self, one can see how Berlant used this layer of abstract form to play with his own image; in others, like Elsewhere, abstraction takes center stage, transforming the composition into a veritable homage to Cubist modes of representation.

While his works explore these various modes, they also offer a subtle reflection on the artist’s extensive career and his reaction to his slowly dwindling circle of artistic colleagues. This changing landscape has lead Berlant to reflect on his many years and has perhaps infused the works in this exhibition with a dynamic sense of introspection and a look back to history. A close examination of several of the works in the show reveal fragments of Berlant’s study of ancient Native American history and its artistic production, references that add another layer of depth to an already delightfully stimulating showcase.

Born in New York in in 1941, Tony Berlant headed west for college. He pursued art degrees at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) and defined his unique artistic approach incorporating the bradded metal collages shortly after graduation in the 1960s. He has been exploring the potential of this play with metal for the duration of his career and has gained great acclaim for it. His works are held by collections across the country, and this showcase reflects his first solo exhibition at Kohn Gallery. For more on the exhibition, please visit the Kohn Gallery website.

– Alexis Culotta

A view of the installation of Tony Berlant’s work at the Kohn Gallery.
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