'In Search of Zapotec, Museo Rufino Tamayo" is the most startling departure in Steve Rogers' current show of terra-cotta reliefs. It's a typically horizontal panel, modeled with characteristic vigor and drama; the surprise is subject matter. Instead of giving us the boxing matches and frenetic crowds at the Olympic Auditorium (a faded fixture of downtown Los Angeles), Rogers presents himself as a picture-snapping tourist in a new museum of pre-Columbian sculpture.
Since he emerged about three years ago, Rogers has distinguished himself as a revivalist of 1930s Regionalism and a master of historical overlays. Here, he introduces new complexities and a dash of humor: clay portraying clay and stone, an artist looking at an artist looking at ancient art through modern technology. More important than that, the piece has a peculiar visual immediacy that catches you off guard and draws you to it.
In the remainder of the show, Rogers reexamines his trademark territory--a localized version of the terrain permanently staked out by George Bellows. Results are always interesting but uneven in impact. Some outdoor views are so restrained that they convey only a lonely sense of nostalgia. More successful are panels that organize crushing crowds in tight bands, threatening to break into chaos when a figure starts to tumble out of the picture.