Mel Katz retrospective exhibition invites viewers into an abstract landscape

"Painted Masonite with Zinc"

SALEM, Ore. — The Hallie Ford Museum of Art is pleased to present a major retrospective exhibition of Portland sculptor Mel Katz (American, b. 1932) that chronicles the career of this prolific and dynamic artist who has played a prominent role in the Portland art scene for over 50 years.

“Mel Katz: On and Off the Wall,” features a veritable forest of Katz’s large scale abstract geometric sculptures and will run from June 6 to Aug. 23, 2015 in the Melvin Henderson Rubio-Gallery. The exhibition is also accompanied by “Mel Katz: Drawings and Small Sculptures,” and illustrates a snapshot into Katz’s creative process. This companion exhibition opens May 9 and continues through July 19, 2015, in the Study Gallery. Together, the exhibitions feature artworks drawn from public and private collections throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as a number of works from the artist’s studio.

Director John Olbrantz says, “Originally trained as a painter, Katz has produced a remarkable body of work over the past fifty years that reflects his unique journey from painter to sculptor. Since I first became aware of Mel’s work in the late 1970s or early 1980s, I always felt that he was one of the most interesting and important sculptors in Oregon.”

Born in Brooklyn, Katz graduated from the Cooper Union Art School in New York in 1953 and attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School in 1954−55. He moved to Portland, in 1964 to accept a teaching position at the Portland Art Museum School, and in 1966 took a position at Portland State University, where he taught for the next thirty-two years. In addition to his highly successful career as an art educator, Katz, along with artists Jay Backstrand and Michele Russo, helped co-found the Portland Center for the Visual Arts in 1971—one of the first alternative artist spaces in the country.

Within a year of his arrival in Portland Katz was making his first shaped paintings with lacquer-sprayed surfaces. By the early 1970s his work began to echo his father’s work as a tailor in the garment trade. Drawing from his father’s pattern making, tracing, and cutting, Katz created shaped, mixed-media works that were a radical departure from traditional sculptural practices of the day and set the stage for the development of his mature work over the next four decades.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Katz had begun to work with polyurethane and fiberglass materials, which formed the foundation for his polyester-sprayed sculptures. In time, wood replaced plastic as the artist embraced Oregon’s abundant natural resources. By the mid-1980s he was exploring the application of Formica products to wood, and by the 1990s he was turning his focus to large, cut-and-welded sheets of steel. More recently, Katz has moved easily between steel in shaped and patterned flat wall pieces, to brightly painted freestanding sculptures, as well as anodized aluminum wall pieces.

Over the years, Katz has been featured in numerous one-person and group exhibitions throughout the United States. In 1979, his work was included in the First Western States Biennial, which opened at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and traveled nationally. He was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Portland Art Museum in 1988 and was included in the traveling exhibition, Still Working, in 1994. His work is included in the collections of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Oregon Arts Commission, the City of Seattle, and many national corporations.

Financial support for this exhibition has been provided by a major grant from The Ford Family Foundation. Additional support was provided by a gift from Dianne C. Anderson, by funds from the Maribeth Collins Art Exhibition Fund, and by general operating support grants from the City of Salem’s Transient Occupancy Tax funds and the Oregon Arts Commission.

Artist Lecture and Opening Reception
In conjunction with the exhibition, Katz will discuss his work on June 5 beginning at 5 p.m. in the Roger Hull Lecture Hall at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Admission to Katz’s lecture is complimentary and will be followed by a reception for the opening exhibition (reception RSVP required: 503-370-6855).

Exhibition Monograph
The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color monograph “Mel Katz: On and Off the Wall” by Barry Johnson who has written extensively on the visual and performing arts in the Pacific Northwest. In his essay, Johnson discusses Katz’s career during the past 50 years and places his work within the broader context of contemporary American art.

About the Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Oregon’s third largest art museum features works by Pacific Northwest and Native American artists, and includes a diverse collection of traditional European, American and Asian art, as well as artifacts that date from antiquity. Frequently changing exhibitions include lectures, special events, tours, artist demonstrations and educational opportunities for children and adults.
The museum is located at 700 State St. in Salem. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed on Monday. General admission is $6, $4 for seniors and $3 for students 18 and older. Students 17 and under and children are admitted free. Admission is free for everyone on Tuesdays. For more information call 503-370-6855 or visit

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