DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       Fall 2002  


Mel Katz at Laura Russo Gallery

Portland, Oregon, tel: 503-226-2754


Mel Katz's latest show of painted aluminum sculpture is a return to form and a step forward from the retrenchment of his previous offering. The strong use of color against matte black and the freestanding nature of this work is a more fruitful offering than the previous all-black, wall-bound metal tableaus. This time Katz is dancing, not lurking on the perimeter of the room. The overall effect is airiness and nod to Matisse's cut outs, a translation which lesser sculptors usually end up bungling. Apparently, the interesting but less satisfying preceding show was an exercise that brought him to this new work, which features five major freestanding sculptures.

Originally a New Yorker, Katz's work has always been concerned with negative space in tension with weighty volumes. He usually achieves this with some spatial arrangement that allows one to see different characteristics of the same material all in one glace. In this case he uses oh-so-Shinto black cruciform lattices that are rooted to the ground and set up contrast. The black supports cut the air and allow the more rounded, colorful and flying forms a luxury not often found today, a protagonistic support. For example, works like "afloat" could be misread as a quasi crucifixion if it weren't for the utter lack of torture here. Instead, the black support forms like that in "Garden Gate" are clearly intended as a civilized environment on which to allow the other forms to bloom and grow upon.

Katz, moved to the Pacific Northwest from New York in the 60's. It makes sense since Portland's city environs heighten the awareness of space with its volcanoes, giant cedar trees and the presence of up close and personal cloudy skies. Somehow the overall civic feeling is a bit funkified Swiss or Swedish and not unlike Katz's new work, has a life affirming aspect. With new, somewhat modernist sculptural work by Katz, Gehry, and Serra being made today one realizes why postmodernist sculpture failed to really claim dominance, it usually lacked the nerve to transform such heavy sculptural material. Were the last 30 years just a lack of resolve? Maybe? Whatever the answer, Katz's aluminum work, although heavily indebted to Matisse's cut outs succeed in capturing some of their decisive lust for life without the fragility, flaws and pure risk that ultimately keep Matisse ahead. Katz is revisiting a master's last and best work, probably with an eye towards making his own most daring statements in his own august career. It is a great time tested strategy.