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Tony Berlant
at Brian Gross Fine Arts, San Francisco, California
Recommendation by Cherie Louise Turner

In his new collages Tony Berlant dispenses with recognizable images, though his signature hammered brads remain firmly in place.

Tony Berlant delivers a group of nine finely, crafted chaotically captivating collages. Whereas many past pieces may be recognizably representational or have complete, identifiable images incorporated into them, this show has only fully abstracted works. The process and general assembly of the works — photographs printed on metal, which the artist cuts into organic shapes, then layers over a primary image, and adheres with small brads — remains the same. No one size fits the work best, as demonstrated by the fact that both smaller and larger pieces provide abundant visual pleasure; the 28 x 43 1/2 inch “Break Out,” a frenetic tilt-a-whirl landscape-esque piece, stands out among the former. Admittedly, however, the larger vertical works here (75 1/2 x 32 inches) command attention.

Berlant also includes a couple of interesting outliers, both large vertical pieces: “Goddess” is a single image, in black and white, of a portion of his plywood studio floor, which he has digitally manipulated to look like a Rorschach test; it also subtly, hazily resembles a female figure. The artist reuses this photo as the base image of a few of the other works in the show; the Rorschach symmetry is also featured elsewhere. There is also the exquisite “Tigertail,” a collage done entirely in shades of white and light grey. It immediately brings to mind the white paintings of Robert Ryman. The enticing element of color removed, we are given the opportunity to better appreciate the quieter aspects of Berlant’s work: the layers, texture, and dynamic rhythm. The piece has a frothy waterfall appearance that’s easy to become absorbed in. The work is evidence that the strength of Berlant’s work is not contingent on the catchy tunes of hues. We bear witness then to not only additional satisfying work but a further transformation within Berlant’s ouvre, which demonstrates the still evolving breadth he remains capable of nearly five decades into his career.

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