The concept behind this show at the University of Washington’s Jacob Lawrence Gallery is bigger than the art in it. A lot bigger. Daniele de Lodovico, a doctoral candidate in art history who seems to get around a lot, solicited three new artworks from 10 artists in each of 10 countries (France, Germany, Poland, Israel, Belgium, Holland, Italy, the United States, and a cross-boarder “Mexico USA” category that includes Latinos in both), many of whom he met in his travels. He selected one piece from each artist. "Suitcase," the result, opened Tuesday after runs in half its other countries of origin.

The reason “Suitcases’s” 100 artworks travel so freely and fit in the compact Lawrence Gallery and doubtless one reason so many artists took up De Lodovico’s challenge) is that they all fit in, well, a suitcase. They’re uniformly small: all executed on mini-sheets of fine Italian paper the size of large postcards. Tacked up unframed, grouped by nationality and, within each nationality, by stylistic affinity, they looked at a distance like a grade school art project. My companion huffed—“I defy you to find on memorable work here”—and exited.

Some of the pieces are just doodles—though, like the joke says, very nice doodles. Others, however, are big ideas painted very small, exquisite and expressive by turns. A few do indeed stick in my memory, though I didn’t record and can’t remember their creators’ names; all I can do is point you to the Polish and Mexico USA walls.

Chance and self-selection doubtless helped determine the range of works, but it’s still tempting to see differences of national character in them. The “Mexico American” pieces draw heavily on indigenous and folkloric motifs, richly patterned and colored. The other Americans incline toward architectural themes; political satire infuses the German drawings, whimsy and (corny but true) joie de vivre the French, and dark irony the Polish. Look closely, though, or you’ll zip right by them.

Suitcase, Wed-Sat 12-4pm through Dec 18 at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery on the first floor, northeast corner, of the UW Art Building, East Stevens Way on campus. Information 206-685-1805.

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