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Play Time 

Plush at Young Blood Gallery

Like crawling inside the cranium of a 3-year-old, Plush at Young Blood Gallery is evidence of this alternative art space's devotion to all that is crafty, silly and transcendently cute.

Plush is, like the best endeavors at Young Blood, a group effort uniting 25 local and national artists and reflecting the esprit de corps that consistently defines the space. The communally crafted installation entails fabric covering floors, walls, ceilings and every available surface -- like a Willy Wonka paradise where everything is edible.

Young Blood co-owner Kelly Teasley has created a soft sculpture fence to welcome viewers into Plush's playpen space. In this exhibit's downy answer to our hard-surfaced reality, cushy palm trees and fabric stumps grow from the floor, smiling raindrops and angry storm clouds hang from the rafters and the soft landscape is occupied by enough bunnies, bears, ponies and monkeys to outfit a dozen tween bedrooms.

You remove your shoes to protect the foam pathway and stroll amid the Pee-Wee Herman soft sculpture environment where every anthropomorphized critter wears a fetching grin. The tactile payoff is immediate -- and affirmation that the sensation of touch is one of the often-unexplored features of the contemporary art experience.

One of the most deliciously wacky tableaux occupies the installation's immediate right, where a gaggle of artist Missy Kulik's 1960s-style wiener dogs stage a hootenanny camp-out beneath quilt square mountains, roasting fabric s'mores over a fabric fire. The show's vibe is infectiously giggle-inducing, as each turn yields some new perversion of cute. Raoul de la Cruz crafts grinning "Fangs" and "Tooth Fairies" that suggest that wet noses, wagging tails and appendages are not necessities in cuteness' vernacular. A woman uniquely talented at making everything from toast to chocolate donuts into totems of huggability, for Plush, Pennsylvania's Heidi Kenney offers a "Sad Tree Stump" shedding a poignant fat tear, a plush ice cream truck, TV, banana and other surreal softies.

Some of Plush's crocheted critters have the flea-bitten faces and lumpy bodies only a mother could love. But craft is often a genre made up of equal parts love and incompetence, failure and ambition.

And Plush is a show that recognizes the potential repulsiveness and obsession of handicrafts pushed to the bitter limits of cute.

Plush. Through Nov. 26. Young Blood Gallery, 629 Glenwood Ave. Wed. and Fri., noon-6 p.m.; Thurs., noon-7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., noon-5 p.m. 404-627-0393.

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