By reputation, art is a sharp-elbow career in which canny operators thrive by climbing over friends, shutting out competitors and fighting — with ferocious charm— for recognition, sales and grant money.

It is not a fan-letter profession.

And then, just in time for Valentine's Day, along comes "Admire," a show of new work by 11 Twin Cities artists who were invited to exhibit by artists in the Form + Content cooperative. The F + C crowd sent them letters praising their courage and inventiveness, applauding the way their "roots" show, or tossing a big bouquet like "Dear Abbie, You are an awesome artist."

Who could resist such flattery?

"Yes, the art world is competitive, but this is the opposite — heartfelt, common, an invitation to someone on a similar artistic voyage," said Jody Williams, the co-op member who sent the Dear Abbie letter to Abbie Woods Anderson. The two artists met a few years ago after Williams spied Anderson's work at the Center for Book Arts and bought a piece. They developed a casual friendship and discovered they both obsess about detail, love books and share a fascination with the natural world — leaves, grasses, seedpods — which they describe with poetic precision in their prints, drawings and book-like sculptures.

When the F + C artists launched the "Admire" project in their chic Warehouse District gallery, Williams naturally thought of her new friend. Anderson submitted a pair of graceful "Grassland" compositions that look like close-ups of fern fronds floating on dark water. Even their delicately jagged edges and minuscule spores are beautifully delineated.

At the suggestion of visiting curator Jennifer Wheatley of Augsburg College, the letters of invitation and response are displayed, too. Folded into little stands next to the artwork, they rightly tempt visitors to read them. Full of surprises and quirky personality, the letters lend the show a disarming intimacy and candor. Plus, it's such illicit fun to read someone else's mail.

Instead of a formal invitation, for example, Kenneth Steinbach and Amanda Hamilton exchanged an excerpt from an enigmatic story by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, which prompted an exchange about "What is real, anyway?" Hamilton's artwork is a video installation showing a misty, ice-covered lake that abruptly disappears, leaving only a crusty edge of ice around a dark void in the midst of a pine forest. Called "Beautiful Terrible," the video actually documents a miniature landscape that Hamilton created in her studio in an effort to suggest what might have happened when a real lake disappeared a few years ago in Russia.

Knowing that Sandra Menefee Taylor is a former farm girl worried about the disappearing prairie, it's easy to understand her affection for the work of Jeffrey F. Morrison, whose installation "Remembering Howard's Oats" includes shafts of grain growing from Quaker oatmeal boxes and a photo of a worn shed and rusted combine. Note especially how the landscape painted on the shed aligns with the distant woods and surrounding fields.

Kathryn Nobbe's painting of a fetus-like form, little sculptures made of netting, and a bas-relief bust festooned with marigold-colored yarn balls is wonderfully eye-catching and strange, very lightly hinting at the health issues it's meant to evoke. Other pieces include a photo by Wing Young Huie, a pretty abstract collage by Hannah Frick, graphic designs by Pritika Chowdhry and John Vogt, architectural mirrors by I. A. Keer, a gripping war-themed linocut by Julie Christensen and three astonishingly effective trompe l'oeil drawings by Alyssa Baguss.

If the gallery were bigger, it would have been instructive to see these pieces paired with art by the F + C members who invited their participation. Some would look like clones of the invitees; others are connected only by the most esoteric links. But never mind; the exercise is a welcome gesture of friendship that warms the season. • 612-673-4431