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Fantastic 4

The CAMH showcases a group of highly individual Houston artists

His series of polyester resin eagles are cast from his models of 19th-century bronze sculptures. They're realized in pink resin, possibly to feminize and take the edge off any rabid nationalist associations. But the eagles are just too clunky and awkward -- one of them looks like a duck. I don't know if the originals had the same clumsy qualities, but the eagles feel unnecessary compared to more successful works like the parlor chair.

Lauster's brown Transferware plates turned out well. They're based on an 18th-century pattern that originally depicted the landing of the Mayflower in the center of the plate. The plate's decorative rims -- rococo flourishes and a harbor scene -- now surround more recent scenes of American history: photographic images from the Library of Congress's collection. Images of Malcolm X, Elvis and Nixon, the San Francisco earthquake and asylum inmates adorn some of the the 24 plates. Lauster is replacing a Waspy touchstone of American history with more recent, less idealized and decidedly more diverse American scenes.


Michael Bise's skewed perspectives come off quite well in Walls.
Courtesy of CAMH
Michael Bise's skewed perspectives come off quite well in Walls.

Details

Through September 10
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose, 713-284-8250

Meanwhile, Soody Sharifi gives us stories from one of the "Axes of Evil." The Iranian-born artist's ongoing series Maxiatures digitally inserts contemporary Iranian men and women into Old Master Persian miniatures. It's an interesting idea, but because Sharifi puts way too many people into the scenes, the effect becomes diluted. Having a select and unexpected few would work better. Ultimately, the images rely too much on exoticism for their appeal. And where earlier works were outputted onto photographic paper, the ones at the CAMH are printed onto nubby canvas that gives them a cheap Pier 1 aesthetic.

What does work well for Sharifi is her series of straight photographs of young Iranians, often shown in domestic settings. Teen girls lounge in their bedrooms. One wears a headscarf and has carefully drawn red lips, while the other is stretched out on a rug on the floor, her face obscured by her long, dark hair as she contemplates a photo of Enrique Iglesias she has extracted from under the bed. Another image shows other young girls in headscarves cavorting over the ancient ruins of Persepolis. One of them looks directly at the camera, stretched out on her back on the base of a destroyed column. Sharifi's work is a reminder of the real people and ancient culture that lie behind the West's frequent stereotyping and demonizing of Iran, but that's a side effect. In her empathetic photographs, Sharifi connects with individuals to create intimate, thoughtful images.

And in the end, regardless of any missteps, "4 Artists 4 Stories" pulls together four strong, and decidedly individual, Houston artists.

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