Today @ AK

Tony Berlant

American, born 1941

Image courtesy of the artist. © 1966 Tony Berlant

Helena, 1966

Found metal collage with brads over plywood, polyester resin, enamel, ceramic and plaster objects, and seashell
14 7/8 x 14 1/8 x 10 1/16 inches (37.8 x 35.9 x 25.6 cm)
Bequest of Arthur B. Michael, by exchange, 2012

California-based artist Tony Berlant discovered his passion for art at a young age. He fondly recalls seeing Picasso’s Weeping Woman with Handkerchief, 1937, at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, where he often visited as a child. A younger member of the L.A. Cool School, Berlant creates quirky, collaged assemblages of colored metal pieces nailed to plywood surfaces, which are sometimes assembled in the form of small, house-shaped boxes. Throughout his career, Berlant has incorporated scraps from discarded household items, such as cookie tins and TV trays, into his compositions. The concept for each work comes from myriad photographs, sketches, and notebooks full of personal notations. While his materials reflect a sculptural approach, the painterly quality of the final pieces’ nuanced color and chameleonlike compositions, which fluctuate between figurative and abstract, relate back to aspects of Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, and Dada.

Helena, 1966, is a significant work created during a particularly fruitful period for Berlant. With a woman’s name as its title, the sculpture invokes a ground-breaking group of works from the early sixties that Berlant refers to as the “girl pieces.” Discussing the creation of the first member of this series, Berlant recalls he “had a friend lie down on my plywood 'canvas' so that I could trace her body with a pencil. Using my friend's clothes, polyester, resin and paint, I started these works. Some of them are portraits, but most are spontaneous creations without direct reference to anyone.” Helena’s patterned and distinctly feminine exterior, full of vibrant foliage, gives way to a pink interior that contains small ceramic and plastic objects and a singular seashell beneath layers of paint.


Born in New York City in 1941, Tony Berlant attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied with artist Richard Diebenkorn (American, 1922–1993), earning a BA in 1961, MA in 1962, and MFA in 1963. During this time, he was influenced by and formed close friendships with some of the group of artists who exhibited at the now-legendary Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles—including Larry Bell (American, born 1939), John McCracken (American, 1934–2011), Ed Moses (American, born 1926), Ken Price (American, 1935–2012), and Ed Ruscha (American, born 1937). Since then, he has continually exhibited widely throughout the United States and abroad, and his work is represented in numerous museum collections.