may 2007

MEL KATZ at Laura Russo

Sculptor Mel Katz ups the ante with his bravura show at Laura Russo, evolving his long-established abstract style in invigorating directions. Katz’s works often come across like late Matisse transmuted into three dimensions, except that his exuberantly hued, cutout-like shapes are more two-dimensional than three. Look at the sculptures from the side, and you see nothing but a straight vertical line, ¾ of an inch thick. This is because Katz begins each work as a drawing, which he then makes into a slide, projects, traces, and hands off to a computer programmer who maps out the composition’s parts, cutting them from aluminum sheets with high-pressure water jets. From this simple formula aided by complex technology, Katz has consistently wrung from his process compelling works that juxtapose rectilinearity with biomorphic curves evoking bellies, breasts, and buttocks. In recent shows, these juxtapositions had become reliable, if not predictable, variations on a theme.

In the current outing, however, the artist has piquantly expanded his compositional arsenal, adding jaunty staccato accents to his intuitive forms. He accomplishes this most effectively in Triad, with its sinuous left half and choppy right side, both halves enlivened by slender rectangles at improbable angles. These motifs manage both to connect the sinuous and geometric sides and to stress their dichotomy. A visual allegory for Katz’s dialectic stratagem, the piece is an invigorating, syncopated sonata for the eye. Another piece, December, evokes a giant blooming cactus, its six green losenges climbing skyward, dotted with red blooms and prickly black needles. Like a figure tossing confetti into the air, Tiara suggests Jazz-era Matisse meeting up with a Keith Haring stick figure somewhere between the Côte d’Azur, Lower Manhattan, and Katz’s native Brooklyn.

Each of the show’s four large sculptures (ranging from 90" to 100" tall) is also offered in smaller model form. The works hold their own in both large and intimate format. With its Greek key-like brackets, the model for Hieroglyph scatters arcane forms across the metal web, recalling Hebrew or Sanskrit characters. The heightened kineticism of these works shows a Northwest icon at the height of his powers, injecting fresh moxie into his oeuvre.


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