Tony Berlant: Fast Forward
September 22—November 2, 2018
From the start, Tony Berlant’s technique, engaging eccentric cuttings of printed metal affixed with brads to flat surfaces, has proven so readily identifiable that it not only represents, but signals the artist. The method effectively brands Berlant in one of the coziest fits in modern Western art. He has employed this labor-intensive, industrial-era method for more than half a century – quite a long run. Such faithfulness to both medium and method constantly challenges Berlant to wrest significant changes from one body of work to the next, that is, to constantly come up with distinctions that are true differences.
In this most recent selection spanning the last four years, Berlant offered a group of the free-standing and wall-hung objects, most small in scale, that have always peppered his exhibitions and that are normally the charmers of the show. Shaped as blocks, double-sided panels, or even house-like formations, and clad in collaged, punctured metal skins brimming with detail, they show off Berlant’s colorful and obsessive manner to maximum effect. This time, however, they were overshadowed – not just physically – by the immense panels unfurled in the gallery’s forward room. Many apparently concocted in just the last several months before the show, these vast fields of repeated, usually patterned shapes and silhouettes washing across one another, pull Berlant away from his Pop roots and towards a more painterly model. Not only their size, but their febrile imagery, conjure the expansive gesturality of Abstract Expressionism and equally the vitality – and depth of field – of 19th-century American landscape painting. Busily rhythmic as they may be, and comfortably as the Pattern & Decoration label affixes to them, these deliriously engulfing panels are only secondarily about surface: they are explorations in lateral structure, non-atmospheric space and the resulting dynamic that hums in the eye between second and third dimensions.