New York

Bram Bogart

Jacobson Howard Gallery

Bram Bogart offers platters of painterliness, one might say, served up raw yet uncannily refined, even in such turbulent works as Geen twijfel (No Doubt), 2005. But it’s not that simple, even if one regards Bogart’s strikingly material paint, often alive with primary color—as it is in the passionately red Een kleur (One Color), 2005, and Rode Rouge (Red Red), 2008—as the bizarre conclusion of what began with the intense brushwork of his countryman Vincent van Gogh. Intensity has become intimidation in Bogart’s paintings: Van Gogh’s painterliness looks restrained compared to Bogart’s, which projects—erupts—into space, confronting us with its materiality. Clement Greenberg once wrote that “every fresh and productive impulse in painting . . . has manhandled into art what seemed until then too intractable, too raw and accidental, to be brought within the scope of aesthetic purpose.” By this standard, Bogart has manhandled into art more paint (for the sheer quantity of paint in his works is as remarkable as their aesthetic quality) than van Gogh ever did. (The Hegelian notion that great quantity becomes pure quality is useful here; even “pure ideas” must return to “sense certainty” to complete their meaning and have effect. One might say that Bogart’s “rematerialization of art” counters the “dematerialization of art.”)

Unlike Bogart, van Gogh didn’t trowel paint onto the canvas (although he did apparently use a palette knife) and his paintings don’t weigh hundreds of pounds. Bogart’s I Don’t Know, 2008, is as much a sculptural relief as an agitated painting. In fact, his works are never flat; they’re three-dimensional constructions made of painterly fragments—some of which are grand and sweeping, including the plateaulike slabs of I Don’t Know; others relatively small and intimate, like those in Het Wit (Little White), 1990. Bogart’s paintings impart a sense of fullness and overload, maintaining a visceral immediacy and overwhelming presence. They perform in space, helped along by their declarative color. Yet however forceful, however much they materialize energy, bringing it under aesthetic control without denying its elemental authority, they are oddly insular and detached: The literalness of the paint becomes a barrier to any rapport that might be generated by stray associations. This is absolute art with a vengeance: All one can do is admire its grandeur.

Bogart’s works seem designed to confront, to reduce the spectator to a minor character in their “act,” like action paintings brilliantly carried to reductio ad absurdum. Colors are stripped of the symbolic meaning van Gogh accorded them, and the material candor that Greenberg celebrated as the ne plus ultra of painting becomes an inevitability—but the so-called inner necessity that gave abstract painting human meaning has been sacrificed. Yet there is an undeniable urgency to Bogart’s handling; the struggle between power and style that Alfred North Whitehead thought was at the core of civilization seems to end in a draw in Bogart’s works, which are at once eminently civilized and uncompromisingly powerful.

Donald Kuspit