I went to the Art Center's A Squared theme exhibit hoping to see works touching on things I like about this city: the last few threads of its once lush lunatic fringe, pockets of ungentrified seediness, and beer-soaked readings of so-bad-it's-good verse at poetry slams.

Instead, I found a largely indifferent response — with notable exceptions — to the Art Center's fun, simple idea: make a square work with reference to the city.

Only eleven of the twenty-three artists bothered to follow these directions, and the resulting diversity dilutes what could have been a strong theme. One bald case of lazy recycling is Lynda Cole's somewhat beat-up paper assemblage A2 + A, which was exhibited recently at the Michigan Guild as Red Box.

The best works conformed to the Art Center's guidelines. Sue Holdaway Heys's cheery quiltlike wall hanging Local Color offers a stylized city map sewn with white-ribbon streets and appliquéd cloth landmarks such as Gratzi's and Gallup Park. Distortions result from space limits: Kerrytown is the same latitude north as the Gandy Dancer, and Gallup Park is in the lower right corner instead of on its own separate swatch about, say, twenty feet to the right, connected by a ribbon representing Fuller Road. But no matter! Two buglike cars, neither of them an SUV, make the streets look appealingly deserted, with apparently plenty of parking on the patches of dark fabric background — a paradise!

Equally bright, Marge Pacer's acrylic paintings A2 Pair offer airy sulfur-yellow flowerlike forms, resembling spaced-out Chinese calligraphy, that appear to grow from black ground under a fiery red sky. One of her jazzy kinked "weeds" sprouts a stylized lowercase A crowned by frenetic pollenlike bits. Despite knowing I couldn't afford it, I had to check the price of this work just in case. Sure enough — rats.

A more controlled work, Robert Black's A2 Community Spirit, offers photographs of brick walls around town skillfully merged into one calico-patchwork wall, with each building's section subtly labeled with a related word or two. Curry-orange bricks bear the word "earle," buff bricks "kinko," chocolaty bricks "olga," and beige bricks with bulgy mortar "necto." "Old town," "old fire," "downtown home," and "hands on" float over their respective bits. The surprising diversity in color and texture of mundane bricks seems to symbolize the city's cultural variety.

In contrast, Alvey Jones's rural-themed Plot, Earth, & Realm: Ann Arbor Landscape Scenery (above left) presents only one tiny building amid an array of pastoral scenes bordering a farmland view with an inset sculpted tree. I savored the green spaces while ruefully reflecting that the work could also have been titled Countdown to Subdivisions. The exhibit is on display through August 4.