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La Cienega Area

The television image of the captured Eugene Hasenfus led through the Nicaraguan jungle like a dog on a leash seemed to encapsulate the brutality and corruption of all the dirty little Central American wars and Uncle Sam’s uneasy complicity in them.

Sculptor Steve Rogers uses the Hasenfus image in a new suite of clay reliefs devoted to the weirdness of present civil carnage in the land of the Maya. It is the local artist’s most ambitious work to date with shelf-like stages up to 8 feet wide and clay tableaux involving a dozen figures and more. Some like “Rio Coco” are compositionally moving, recalling the Mexican Muralists and the American Social Realists. Occasionally one is emotionally touched as peasant families flee while their sons slaughter one another according to the shade of khaki fatigues they wear.

Too often, however, Rogers muddies his own waters, drifting into shallow satire on American tourists or distractions like ironies about the loss of ancient pre-Columbian religions that were themselves bloody and repressive.

Not everyone is born with Daumier’s knack for turning particular idiocy into universal tragedy or Leon Golub’s ability to focus on the obscenity of terrorism. Rogers shows mixed feelings that don’t jell into an artistic statement the way his old Olympic Boxing series did. He comes out with the same whiffs of free-floating and smug self-righteousness that used to dog satirists of the ‘30s such as Paul Cadmus and William Gropper. (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 669 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Oct. 8.)

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