At first glance, Stephen Kafer's sculptures look like an awkward cross between the stark stainless-steel Minimalism of Donald Judd and the precariously balanced glass constructions of George Geyer. Kafer's concerns are more anthropological than strictly formal, however. He focuses on the physical and psychological boundaries that mark man's transformation from a nomadic animal to a sedentary being with roots, tools and the ability to alter the environment to fit his needs.
"Exchange/Transference," for example, with its steel frame, large metal funnel and runoff sluice, alludes to primitive modes of collecting and harnessing water for drinking, irrigation and power. "First Furrow," an abstract plow-like wall piece in galvanized sheet metal, glass and ceramic fragments, is more specifically historical, referring to the drawing up of the boundaries of ancient Rome by reading auguries and dragging a sacred plow across the ground. The piece thus evokes both the ritual nature of farming and the division of territories into collective habitations and economic groupings.
The strength of Kafer's work lies in his ability to underline the iconic and quasi-religious signification of objects, architecture and activities within such early societies. His wall pieces in particular, vaguely anthropomorphic, suggest potent totems or household gods, the very cement of convention and stability. Yet one can't help thinking that Kafer's pristine craftsmanship and self-conscious creation of aesthetic objets d'art draws attention away from visualizing "history in the raw" and focuses it instead on the artist and his product. The works become paeans to the modernist object and its materials, rather than rigorous explorations of sociological phenomena. (Ruth Bachofner Gallery, 804 N. La Cienega Blvd., to March 29.)