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The Jury's Still Out

Two new exhibitions can make the most judicial viewer question some curatorial judgments

Laura Lark landed work in both shows, wonderful tiny cheerleader paintings (of all things) as well as drawings of Shirley MacLaine in various film roles. Her work has elements of perky fashion illustrations or spunky girl cartoons, but with a witty edge that's hard to isolate. You want them to meet the guys of David Harrison's Rasslin' over at Lawndale. Not only has he given it a great title, but he has filled its small surface with a web of carefully drawn masked wrestlers. Also at Lawndale, Betsy Coulter's subtly unambitious sculpture Block Tower II resonates beyond its straightforward construction. Her stack of eight blue-painted cinder blocks is anchored to the floor with aluminum tape down one side. The third brick from the bottom is slightly off-kilter, which is disturbing enough to make you want to fix it.

At the Blaffer, Ann Bengston's fluorescent vagina "denta" vision Bride is hands down the boldest and nuttiest thing on display. Giant eyeball sperm with spiraling wire tails swim toward a hunter-orange orifice encircled with steel wool and sprouting spikes -- an over-the-top, slapstick feminist commentary. Slightly less over-the-top is Ruben Coy's lush hypertropical landscape Down from the Sky and on to the Forest the Evening Glow Dancer, which wets its feet in the kitsch pool.

These shows offer the chance to poke around and view lesser-known work you might not see in any other venue, short of the artist's garage studio. Eclectic is the operative word, but the shows adjust themselves to the institutional character of their respective venues. The Blaffer exhibition is more elegantly spaced, more tightly edited and a little slicker. Lawndale's Big Show is jam-packed -- although less crowded than in previous years -- and casts a wider net, pulling in a broad, freewheeling assortment. There is enough meat at each location to keep viewers masticating for a while.

"The Big Show 2000" runs through August 26 at Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main. For more information, call (713)528-5858.

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