In its 28th year, the 2009-10 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship exhibition could be likened to a baseball home opener. It's an anticipated event but doesn't represent the entire season -- or in this case the entire arts community.

The show features the work of four Minnesota artists who receive coveted recognition and a desirable cash prize. As usual the four bodies of work have little in common, but if there is one idea that links the work of Michael Kareken, Aldo Moroni, Carolyn Swiszcz and Piotr Szyhalski, it is their exploration of the abstract construct of time.

Most accessible are Kareken's paintings and drawings of fields of recycled glass bottles, grids of compressed scrap metal and tangles of discarded engines that make obvious his keen eye and technical facility for making the ordinary resonate. In the painting "Green Bottles" the viewer is mired in a quicksand of bottles, as if sinking in the midst of a huge recycling container. Deftly using an edge-to-edge style of painting recalling abstract expressionism, Kareken sheaths his work in a veneer of melancholy and loss that unearths two narratives: the history of these discarded objects and a more political critique of our consumption.

For more than three decades, Moroni has investigated ancient civilizations in his ceramic-based work. His installation projects, which he calls "mock archeology," imaginatively re-create the rise and fall of societies. In "Fragilearth," the civilization narrative played out through 18-foot-tall sculptural "mountains," spiky flora, and clouds suspended from the ceiling has an unexpected twist: Its future demise is not because of a conquering people but due to nature.

Moroni works Monday through Friday on "Fragilearth" from 10 to noon and welcomes the input of visitors so that the project evolves in a communal way. Will Moroni destroy "Fragilearth" in a post-exhibition performance? It's a question that causes Moroni to smile like the Cheshire Cat.

Swiszcz has been making some of the more provocative yet understated work in the Twin Cities and her offering does not disappoint. Here, her protagonists are the psychological and physical wasteland of abandoned strip malls.

Wisp-like and ephemeral, her mixed-media drawings and oil-on-canvas paintings seem to depict the remembrances of actual buildings or places in works titled "Liquor Big" and "So. St. Paul Animal Hospital." So disembodied and fleeting are these images one could almost reach through them, yet their stories of past glories and current disuse evoke a psychological malaise raising the question of why these places, or our memory of them, are important. Two short videos by Swiszcz, "Tuesday Afternoon" and "Offering," are lean parodies of music videos, and should not be missed.

Szyhalski's installation "Apologia" is as compelling as it is inaccessible. Comprising video, 12 altered 80-RPM Edison gramophone records, custom electronics, a bank of 12 identical wall clocks, two VU meters and lights, the piece's content is virtually impenetrable. Yet complex notions of time, narrative, history and sound emerge.

The artist-designed label of each thick antique record identifies moments of impact, such as the bombing of Hiroshima or the destruction of the Twin Towers. A digital screen, mounted flat on two yellow sawhorses, is programmed with ghost images of planes that intermittently race across the dark surface, eventually colliding. The impact triggers lights and the VU meters. Ironically, there is no sound. "Apologia" is all but indecipherable but powerful like an ancient hieroglyphic tablet.