The Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA) is showing a retrospective of Mel Katz’ work dating back to 1966. Concurrently at Russo Lee Gallery, more recent work by Katz is on display. The museum show includes a video and drawings that show traces of erasure, as well as more three-dimensional works, providing an avenue to understand the flat panels on the walls of the gallery. The informative video at MoNA was produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting. Katz has taught at Portland State University and co-founded the Portland Center for the Visual Arts (PCVA).

There are different ways to represent the space in between sculpture and painting. From the earliest work shown at MoNA through the large-scale drawings and the contemporaneous sculptural paintings, Mel Katz occupies that between space. He has continued to both focus in and abstract his position, currently operating in a realm that he calls “shape painting”.

The earliest work at MoNA, “Ribbons 1”, is constructed on wood and shows a coherent three-dimensional space created by the three blocks of color along the left-hand side. The titular ribbon then wanders “off set”, as it were, confounding the planar expectation of a traditional painting.

This method of cutting into space to reveal the betweenness is further developed in “Pedestal”, “Flagstone” and “Patterns”. In “Wood Posts II – Reds” from 1980, attention is literally drawn to the cut edge by the revealed color and its meaning.

“White Concrete, Steel” takes off in a new direction, with most subsequent works formed of flat color plates, stacked or single and always with a sense of play on display.


Russo Lee Gallery presents wall-hung work by Katz that is composed of aluminum panels, milled and anodized by Katz’ team of professionals. Using bold colors, they light-heartedly explore positive and negative shapes.

– Martha Dunham

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