Given Wall Street's problems and the social polarization of Reaganomics, comparisons between the current crisis and that of the Depression Era are inevitable. An exhibition of paintings and cartoons from the 1930s and '40s by the New York social realist William Gropper (1897-1977) seems particularly topical, capturing--often with brutal force--the world of bread lines, unemployment and mismanagement.
Unlike most of his peers, who eked out an existence through WPA programs, Gropper worked regularly as a cartoonist for prestigious publications such as Vanity Fair and the Herald Tribune. These forums provided both a catalyst and a subsidy for a series of paintings that rival the satirical jibes of Paul Cadmus and Georg Grosz in their unrelenting portrayal of porcine industrialists, amoral attorneys and conniving politicians.
Stylistically, Gropper drew on a combination of distorted caricature and Cubistic spatial dislocation. A broad palette, ranging from muted ochres to vivid reds and greens injects each work with a surreal, almost desperate urgency. This tends to oversentimentalize Gropper's later excursions into Chagall-like renditions of Jewish folklore but it remains effective in transforming local historical and political statements into universal archetypes. Gropper's best work is clear proof that there is no statute of limitations on the ramifications of greed and exploitation. (Heritage Gallery, 718 N. La Cienega Blvd., to Nov. 28.)