Mel Katz: On and Off the Wall

June 6 – August 23, 2015

Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery

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.

Mel Katz in his March 2009 show at the Laura Russo Gallery.

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.


Companion Exhibition


Mel Katz: Drawings and Small Sculptures
May 9 - July 19, 2015
The Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery

Drawing has always been an important part of Portland artist Mel Katz’s working process. Each sculpture that Katz has made over the past four decades is accompanied by at least one large drawing—usually 8 feet in height and drawn with charcoal on white butcher paper—that he uses to work out some of the complex visual problems and challenges he deals with in his sculptures. Similarly, Katz often makes small sculptures or maquettes of his large painted aluminum sculptures.

This exhibition has been organized to introduce visitors to Mel Katz’s working process and is intended to supplement the fifty-year retrospective exhibition Mel Katz: On and Off the Wall.


Lecture by Mel Katz
Friday, June 5, 2015 at 5 p.m.
Please note that we have a new location for the lecture
Paulus Lecture Hall
Willamette University College of Law
245 Winter St. SE
Campus map: building #11
Free and open to the public

Exhibition Opening Reception
Friday, June 5, 2015 at 6 p.m.
Hallie Ford Museum of Art
RSVP (acceptances only): or call 503-370-6855

Gallery Talk with Mel Katz
Saturday, June 27 at 12:30 p.m.
Join Mel Katz at the museum for a guided tour of the exhibition.
Free and open to the public

Tuesday Gallery Talks
Join docents at the museum for a guided tour of the exhibition. Tours commence at 12:30 p.m.
Free and open to the public

June 9: The tour will be led by Gary Brown

July 14: The tour will be led by Molly Fitzsimmons

August 11: The tour will be led by Sue Dauer

Exhibition Related Publication


Mel Katz: On and Off the Wall
By Barry Johnson
© 2015
ISBN 9781930957725
8.5 x 11 in. and 128 pages in length.
There are 104 color and black/white illustrations
Price: $29.95
Available in the Hallie Ford Museum of Art store or by calling 503-370-6855
| More information |

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.


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