Kirkland Arts Center's group show, "Social Security," reflects the shaky state of national affairs. Contributing to the show are Charles Krafft, Lara Kaminsky, Bill Whipple, Lauren Grossman and Kevin Wildermuth, among others.

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Art Review |

Political art can either aim straight at its targets in angry, activist mode — or it can turn to mockery and humor to pull off its effects.

The ironically titled “Social Security,” a group exhibit at Kirkland Arts Center, suggests mockery works best.

Curated by Jayme Yahr and Deborah F. Lawrence, it showcases 11 Northwest artists riffing on the notion that “politics are embedded in every aspect of contemporary culture.”

Three of them see politics permeating the game of life itself — or, rather, “The Game of Life.” In an elaborate installation, Lara Kaminsky, Tina Russell and Jessie Wilson recast the classic Milton Bradley board game to better reflect the social divides of contemporary America. Kaminsky supplies an “Urban Ghetto Edition,” while Wilson devises a “Fresh Off the Boat Edition” and Russell delivers a “Privileged Edition.”

All three are barbed in their wit, with Kaminsky’s “Urban Ghetto” being particularly well targeted (“If you have a job, get a second one”). The games are accompanied by a giddy, 1950s-style promotional trailer on video, with more samples of where a spin of the wheel can land you. On the down side: “Food service worker again?” On the “up” side: “The government just bailed out my company!”

Joining them on the satirical front is the ever-entertaining Charles Krafft who contributes a “Delft CCTV Camera,” plus an assortment of weaponry in exquisitely painted slip-cast earthenware. Krafft mostly lets the ludicrous contrast between his medium and his content speak for itself, although on “Cannister Grenade” he adds some text: “Porcelain War Museum: Been There Smashed That.”

Bill Whipple’s cleverly crafted interactive wall sculptures operate similarly to Krafft’s pieces. “Divisions,” for instance, is a map of a finger-pointing U.S.A. that, with a playful turn of a crank, splits into four sections. His most poignant piece, “Erosion,” has no moving parts, however. It’s a map of the continental U.S. depicted in sharp, precipitous contours — a whole country melting away to nothing.

Lock-step factionalism is wittily nailed in “Rocker” by Lauren Grossman, a contraption in which two human heads, mounted on a steel-frame rocking-horse base, angrily confront each other. When you set the thing in motion, it puts an absurd spin on their hostilities.

Satire shades into agitprop and desolate melancholy in Kevin Wildermuth’s work. “27.7 Billion Dollar Bill” bristles with messages on what our war expenditure in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost in lives and funds, and how it might have been better spent. The $27.7 billion of the title reflects Washington state’s contribution to the wars.

Wildermuth’s photographs from his travels on American back roads strike a similar downbeat note, with “Pawnshop Sign, Ellensburg, WA” sounding the alarm on a what a bankrupt, post-literate society might look like.

Other pieces in the show aren’t as memorable. Still, as a meditation on the malaise and political divides afflicting our country, “Social Security” has considerable collective power.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com