A deep and narrow storefront gallery like Lawrenceville's wily Fe has surely tried this before, but it was still striking to enter and find the attendant's desk placed dead-center and two-thirds of the way back from the front door. The arrangement makes the place look even longer and starker. It thus sets the tone for H2O, a witty and thought-provoking water-themed group show by 18 artists in the Group A collective.
Independent curator George Davis beckons to Butler Street passersby with Rose Clancy's "An Experiment in Complicating Simplicity: Alternate Methods of Watering Plants." Set in the storefront windows, the three assemblages -- primarily fabricated from rusty machine parts, with sprouting garlic bulbs and grass -- recast Rube Goldberg as gardener. Clancy literally goes deeper with "Water in the Basement": The installation, which makes good use of Fe's dimly lit lower level, is a seeming one-liner that turns poignant when you read the accompanying text.
A few works have ecological themes. Alberto Almarza's "Life Fixture" appropriates a contemporary symbol of environmental (ir)responsibility: His tiny terrarium in a little test-tube is fitted inside a water-filled light bulb (the energy-hogging incandescent kind) that's screwed into an antique light fixture. There even appear to be tiny snails inside. Paula Weiner's "Menu of the Sea," meanwhile, spotlights oceanic pollution with offerings like "Crude Oil Crudité" and "Wrapper of the Day."
Other works evoke our relationship with water more lyrically. R.E. Levine's "Wine Dark Sea I" uses mineral paint on handmade paper to create a handsome amalgam of geometric shapes and text from the Odyssey, all against a dark-brown background. Kirsten Ervin's "Through the Ship's Window" is a pendant mixed-media piece making clever use of old security envelopes: Their interior patterns prove nearly as varied as the water-inspired abstracts Ervin has painted to complement them.
Anna Divinsky's "Seascapes" consists of wee abstracts painted on swatches of silk individually wrapped around dozens of matchbook-sized boxes, all hung to climb (or descend) the gallery wall in a floor-to-ceiling column. In her "Waterline," Connie Cantor took dozens of Benjamin Moore paint chips with water-inspired hue names ("Fountain Spout"; "Lavender Mist") and arrayed them horizontally on the wall, a yard off the floor. It's a mock flood that threatens our submersion in droplets of marketing-department poesy.
Fe owner Jill Larson's single-channel video installation "In Over My Head" is cunningly planted beneath a small door inset in the gallery's very floorboards. Open the door: It's a work simultaneously dreamlike and slightly unnerving.
Most populous in H2O are images by photographer William D. Wade. Some, like a detail of a tanker truck ironically labeled "Pure Water" foregrounding a New York City apartment building, are artful photojournalism (which makes sense from Wade, a longtime Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staffer). Most potent, however, is the nearly abstract "The Power of Niagara Falls." The coarse-grained, black-and-white image -- a large-scale vertical -- places the lip of the falls at far left, in decontextualized profile, while the frame's rightmost two-thirds is engulfed in rising mist. The falls' rumpled mass at once flows and resists.
H2O continues through Fri., March 12. Fe Gallery, 4102 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-860-6028 or www.fegallery.org