Regina Bogat: Works 1967-1977 at Zürcher Gallery marks another milestone in the rediscovery of an artist who has long been hidden in plain sight. Since her start in the 1950s, in a milieu that included abstract artists like Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt and her late husband, Al Jensen, Bogat has always played the subversive.
In her delicate union of geometric formality and biomorphic energy, Bogat proves that bodily references and universal symbolism can coexist with purity of form. Alongside her female peers in the New York scene like Agnes Martin and her friend, Eva Hesse, she has infused her hard-edged abstraction with intimations of natural formations and human physiology while preserving that style’s contemplative strength and — let’s face it — its mesmerizing opacity as well.
Bogat’s Star paintings of the 2000s were featured in a solo exhibition at Art 101 in 2012, and were recently spotlighted in a spring group exhibition at Brooklyn’s Trestle Gallery. That terrific show of new abstract work, smartly curated by sculptor Catherine Cullen, in part as homage to Hilma Af Klint, also included works by such artists as Mary Schiliro and Craig Olson.
Cullen spelled out for me in an email what she sees as the contribution of Bogat’s recent star paintings to the current state of abstraction. “Situated in implicitly boundary-less space,” Cullen writes, “Regina Bogat’s star paintings anchor an event, an explosion of fluid color. At the end of each of the books of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the aspirant emerges to re-behold a vision of stars. Regina’s paintings of ten[-]pointed stars can have that feeling of inner discovery; as if she paints what one thought had been lost to one but was there all along, knowledge accessed through the process of painting.”
Her recent Star series provides a skeleton key to Bogat’s approach to abstraction: delineated, geometric designs and foundational patterns thatcan help a visitor approach the more complicated mixed-media works in the 1967-1977 retrospective. In the Star series, liquefied applications of paint create a dissonance between the astral patterns and the miasmic, layered splotches beneath. In the works from the 1960s and 1970s, geometric foundations and flatly painted surfaces are augmented by embedded materials like rope, enamel, or wood.
“Threaded Piece 3” (1973), which is featured in the Zürcher show, marks her mid-career turn toward even more advanced experimentation in method, a breakthrough that was only hinted at in an exhibition of her 1960s work in the same gallery last November.
More than the other two works in this remarkable series, “Threaded Piece 3,” challenges the distinctions between abstract and representational art while blurring the lines between painting and sculpture. Intentionally or not, this work further confronts unwritten boundaries separating graphic design and traditional craftwork from fine art and avant-garde techniques.
Gone from “Threaded Piece 3” is the angularity found in most of Bogat’s other abstractions. The schematic geometry and the grid-based construction are replaced by convoluted lines and painted contours. The drawn and painted paper ground, done in graphite and gouache, features waves, coils, crescents, and spheres. While tending toward the primary, the coloration of the shapes is rather muted. Their dynamism comes from their abundance.
The imagery connotes a tidal pool of colors, or a kind of genesis of manifold, curvaceous forms, all of them distinctly drawn. Their shapes interlock and overlap with an abandon unusual in Bogat’s more severe abstractions.
Threaded through the upper portion of the paper is a dense mass of long, thin colored threads spilling forward and dangling far below the bottom edge of the paper support. While the painted portion of the work is smooth, muted and otherworldly, these colored strings are solid, vibrant and tangible. Like the other three-dimensional paintings in the current show, which also make unusual use of dangling fabrics and projecting components, “Threaded Piece 3” seems to dare the viewer to touch it.
The cascading yellows and reds suggest a sort of fiery waterfall, which is augmented by a lengthy,sumptuous substratum dominated by green and blue threads, twisting and turning into thick braids as they travel downward. Many of these threads are frayed or splintered, demonstrating an untamed naturalness. Pink and purple strings come to the surface as the braid continues downward, enriching the composition and signifying the feminine. The threads taper to a few, mostly orangestrands, suggesting, perhaps, the tip of a flame.
These colored strings seem, more than any work in Bogat’s oeuvre, to push beyond abstraction to directly represent some particular thing or things.
First, there is the overt allusion to knitting, to yarn, to domesticity, as well as to the handmade essence of art, signified by the plaiting of the threads. This conspicuousness of human handiwork coincides with the raw materiality of these fibers, with their connotations of both hair and textiles. But in a meeting of the domestic and the cosmic, “Threaded Piece 3” also evokes a universe whose distant designs can be represented only in symbolic terms. That universe, a real beyond, is suggested by the nonrealistic coloration on the painting’s base, in its waves and planetary shapes from which these cords grow and extend.
Another interpretation of “Threaded Piece 3” could be built on art historical grounds. Bogat’s intricately abstract forms — polychromatic threads arranged into a vulvar configuration — look like an eroticized, feminine reinvention of the past strategies of Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting. Bogat, in her early paintingsof the 1950s, was working within and moving beyond those male-dominated orthodoxies. “Threaded Piece 3” shows her striking out in a largely unclassifiable style by the early 1970s.
As mentioned above, in “Threaded Piece 3” Bogat allows herself a rare nod toward representational art: a colored waterfall,a densely grown cluster of rainbow-colored vines, a braid of woman’s hair as seen from behind. Exacerbated by the “hair’s” unnatural polychrome, that impression of a human figure is a little disturbing, for, if it is a woman, she is faceless.
Or perhaps she is not faceless at all. Maybe she is symbolically turned away from the public’s gaze, her attention, as it were, captivated — like the artist’s — by profounder aesthetic, geometric and even mystic realms represented by the remote curves, crescents and waves on the paper into which the long threads are embedded and from which they spill out, forming a wholly original order of imagery and art.
Single Point Perspective is an occasional series from Hyperallergic Weekend that features texts about single works of art and the currents they ride on.
Regina Bogat: Works 1967-1977 continues at Zürcher Gallery (33 Bleecker Street, Nolita, Manhattan) through July 25.