Russell Maltz, STACK – Ball Park XLIII, 2021, Polyurethane enamel and enamel on plate and wire glass, 15 plates, 60 x 101 x 10 inches.
 
Biography necessarily runs hand in hand with visual-art production. For sculptor and conceptual artist Russell Maltz, living and making are one and the same thing. 
That said, the affable, unpretentious, and uncontrived sixty-nine-year-old artist wears his penchants, quirks, and opinions lightly, layering them in such a way as always to seem impromptu and so grab an audience’s attention in unexpected ways. In fact, layering would seem to be one of Maltz’s signature activities.
Brooklyn born and raised—and now long-time SoHo based between his travels and exhibitions across Europe and South America—Maltz has always drawn freely and recklessly on materials and ideas from his surroundings. He began in 1976 with an installation in an empty public swimming pool on the C.W. Post campus, where he was a student, studying with architecturally-inclined painter-sculptor Robert Yasuda. He was there; the pool was there, like a painter’s empty canvas.
 
Russell Maltz, ACCU-FLO Bundled #1, 2022, Day-Glo enamel on plywood with metal banding, 28 x 106 x 5 inches.
His relationship with materials is, to say the least, “unpremeditated.” He engages many media, many genres, and just about anything he can lay claim to—from lumber to glass to performance art to photography. His early work concerned itself with Land and Conceptual projects. 
In other words, Maltz accommodates what comes to hand, what the universe offers, wherever he is, and then lets it assemble and shape itself, with components often appearing self-framed in their painted or raw edges. He explores what is there and what is around it. This is clear in his geometric “Ball Park” Series (1977-2012) and an installation from an 2012 international group show in an Oaxaca, Mexico warehouse, where the materials he was to use hadn’t arrived in time for the exhibition so he had to substitute with what the warehouse offered: cinder blocks, which he stacked and painted in Day-Glo colors. Miraculously, it worked, demonstrating Wittgenstein’s precept that the world is made up of facts, not things, taking facts to be what the creator does with the found universe.
In most of his art, light is the primary ingredient, for the simple reason that it’s either there (or not there) and beyond his control. “It’s natural, not premeditated,” Maltz says. “You don’t have to get the lighting just right,” he adds, “The lighting is always different from when I make the work.” 
Incidentally, it turns out, Maltz’s father, Scottie Maltz, was teaching a course in lighting design at Ringling College of Art and Design in 2006 when Maltz was making a project and lecturing there. All of which compounds the artist’s affinity for the coincidental and elaborates the associability of his life and work.
Russell Maltz, Stack – SCR-17, Site Crosby Street, 2021, Dayglo enamel on plywood and lumber, Dimensions variable.
 
The tricks of light are most evident in his translucent glass and steel works, or his “Needles.” Painted with Day-Glo enamel and combined with wire, glass, and steel, they are dangerous, fragile, beautiful, and confounding. Elegance coupled with grit. Endlessly changeable, wholly at the mercy of our perceptions of them as we move about and catch the glints of light. Their precarious nature reminds us of how important chance is to Maltz—a wrong move and the floor is covered with shards.
This link to contingency makes Maltz see himself “more as a painter,” than a sculptor and ponders such matters as “How does painting become performative? 
The pandemic, he says, “allowed for a reassessment of our values. We had the time.” It also gave him time to work and, therefore, to accumulate work, which helps explain his affinity for stacks.
Maltz’s attraction to stackability sets the stage for random associations and alliances. He knows how to fall into places. He makes himself at home not only with the materials that surround him, but also with the cultures at hand. While he began his career as a so-called Minimalist, he is more a maximalist, who thrives on accumulations. His drawings, many of them slanted stacks showing progression, gather up lines to demonstrate works in the making—unlike, he says, those of Richard Serra, who draws “work which is completed.”
Russell Maltz, Untitled, 1988, Ink on Arches paper, 11.5 x 15.25 inches.
Above all, Maltz can’t be easily categorized. His layered “paintings” are assemblages, which lend themselves to numerous readings and associations. His cardboard pieces recall some of Rauchenberg’s warm and affecting shirt-box constructions while Maltz’s hanging sheets of glass continually re-creating themselves with their sharp edges and shadows, demonstrate the alternately dramatic and subtle effects of art existing between dimensions—that is, two and three.
The artist’s latest works in the Minus Space series, on view until July 30, is the last segment of the three exhibitions at Maltz’s long-time Brooklyn gallery Minus Space, addressing some fifty years of practice. 
It focuses on the “Needle” sculptures composed of safety glass, steel strips, acrylic, and Day-Glo paint. They seduce with their play of light and shadow. At the same time, at an off-site space near the gallery on Jay Street in front of an empty storefront, Maltz has installed—or simply left—a pile of recycled plywood two-by-fours, all finished off with his ever-striking AFFU-FLO Day-Glo paint.
Barbara A. MacAdam is a New York-based freelance editor and writer, who worked at ARTnews for many years as well as for Art and Auction, New York Magazine, Review Magazine, and Latin American Literature and Arts. She currently reviews regularly for The Brooklyn Rail.
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