Just In: Early and Rare Tony Berlant House

November 10, 2015


Los Angeles Modern Auctions is pleased to offer a rare early piece by L.A.’s own Tony Berlant. Berlant has been creating vivid metal collages since the early sixties. He cuts up and hammers with steel brads either found material or new tin into three-dimensional objects and reliefs; assemblages with riotous, “kinky” colors. The collaged surfaces are tactile, patterned like “armored quilts,” and have an artisanal, handcrafted look. He revels in the resulting piecemeal quality, and says, “A lot of what I like about it is . . . the physical labor and activity.”




Tony Berlant, Tree Sweet Venus, 1966
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

As a recent graduate–Berlant received a B.A., a M.A. (in Painting),  and a M.F.A. (in Sculpture) all at UCLA by 1963–he was a young friend of the Ferus Gallery artists and members of the “Cool School.” In 1964 he was awarded a Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) New Talent Purchase Grant. He was influenced by artists such as Bruce Conner, George Herms, Robert Rauschenberg, and Joseph Cornell–assemblage artists who collected detritus and formed something hybrid between sculpture and painting. He also incorporates the vibrancy, polished surfaces, and consumer culture references found in Pop art–in the work of Andy Warhol, Billy Al Bengston, and Craig Kauffman.


Tony Berlant, Tree Sweet Venus, 1966
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Berlant finds that artists reference the current cultural zeitgeist, especially when using found material. While at UCLA, he collected a multi-generational cache of tin signs from a local Venice market when it closed down. First he exhibited them as artifacts–the signs as they were–then he cut up the tin to use as source material. Later he would use TV trays, waste bins, lunch boxes, and lockers for metal pieces. Tin was widely used for advertising at the time, before plastic would become the common material.


Tony Berlant, Tree Sweet Venus, 1966 (detail)
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

From 1962–1964, the twenty-something Berlant made what he calls “girl pieces”–sculptural and painterly figures of women’s torsos, flat, in cloth or resin. This lot, Tree Sweet Venus (1966), is a miniature house with a lustrous metallic surface, bejeweled with bright yellow ladies’ smiley faces. This piece is key as it seemingly invokes the feminine aspect of the “girl pieces,” and is among Berlant’s early house-shaped sculptures. Houses are a common motif of his–they are a simple shape, like a Monopoly toy, but rife with symbolism alluding to property or personal space. The sculptures also play with the idea of privacy–the house is hand-sized and accessible, it can be turned around and looked at closely. Here, like an exquisite display box, the doorway and windows reveal a small nude figure lying folded within.



Tony Berlant, Tree Sweet Venus, 1966 (detail)
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot Information:

Tree Sweet Venus, 1966
Found tin, steel brads, and painted wood
14.25″ x 10″ x 14”
Estimate: $15,000–$20,000

Boswell, Peter. “Lily After Dark No. 58, 1990.” Sculpture from the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery. Ed. Karen O. Janovy and Daniel A. Siedell. Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 2005. Print.
McLane, Jeff, film dir. and ed. “Tony Berlant: Close to Home: 30 October–29 November 2014.” Produced by L.A. Louver. Web. 2 Nov 2015.
Pagel, David. “Art Review: Tony Berlant at LA Louver.” Los Angeles Times. Culture Monster sec. Los Angeles Times Media Group, 30 July 2010. Web. 2 Nov 2015.
Smith, Roberta. “Art in Review: Tony Berlant.” The New York Times. Arts sec. The New York Times Company, 12 May 2000. Web. 2 Nov 2015.
“Tony Berlant.” Artsy. Artsy, 2015. Web. 2 Nov 2015.
“Tony Berlant: Helena, 1966.” Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Web. 2 Nov 2015.
“Tony Berlant: Works from 1962-1964.” Artweek.LA. Featured Articles, Pacific Standard Time sec. Artweek.L.A., 5 Sept 2011. Web. 2 Nov 2015.

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