It takes a lot of effort to get a rise out of Kansas City Flatfile.

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It takes a lot of effort to get a rise out of Kansas City Flatfile.

The material in the Kansas City Flatfile show at the H&R Block Artspace is exhaustive: the work of 141 area artists — up to 10 pieces each — stored in cabinets that visitors can pore over at their leisure. Artspace staffers have pulled approximately 60 pieces to actually exhibit, and future guest curators (including Charlotte Street Foundation national advisor and renowned curator Hamza Walker) will select works for the salon wall. But the quality of the work here feels more inconsistent than varied.

Given enough time and patience, for example, viewers will find Janet Carpenter's striking and attractive graphite drawings of downtown Chicago, particularly "Tribune Tower," "The Berghoff" and "Beyond the Wrigley Building." The work is clean and detailed in its rendering of urban cityscapes, but her pastel drawings of the Kansas prairies aren't as appealing.

Elsewhere, Rebecca Dolan photographs lonely, sad images of boats arriving and departing from the intriguing perspective of a ship's porthole. Another piece depicts the blurry image of an airplane on a runway, framed by another airplane window; all else is black. Dolan's work evokes vacancies and absences shrouded with memories.

The photographs in Kati Tovainen's "Western Series" are even more compelling. They form a sort of narrative, examining and contributing to Old West iconography. Menacing, silhouetted cowboys shoot from their horses, Indians raise bows and arrows in victory, and death hangs in the air of their virtual, violent world. The effect is haunting.

The adjacent room houses Kansas City Art Institute professor Lester Goldman's sketchbooks and paintings, which have an added air of poignancy because of his death on September 24. Here also are the artists' résumés, artist statements and slides as well as video and DVD works to screen. Douglas Hudson's "Empty Words" edits a George W. Bush press conference for humorous, unsettling effect, but the project feels too familiar — we already know the guy's not a great public speaker — and it's only slightly more engaging than its unengaged subject. Lisa Kettlewell's "Taryn's T-Shirts," which re-enacts a T-shirt-making instructional video, is simply banal.

It isn't just a novelty, viewing art in sliding drawers — it's a unique and intimate experience. But it's probably time for the gallery to reconsider the parameters of this biennial show; much of what's there could have been whittled to a more solid collection.

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