Nine of the 10 artists in "The State of Upstate: New York Women Artists," the touring show on view now at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, hang their art in grids, constructing biggish wall displays out of lots of smallish images, small photographs, small paintings, small blackboard scrawls and texts. That checkerboard device gives their small exhibit with its scattering of images a look of crisp coherence. One feels surrounded by an intricate mosaic, a sort of pieced-together quilt.

There is much these artists share. All use serial imagery. All reside in New York state, though none lives in Manhattan ("the New York City area," the catalogue informs us, "was excluded in order to give the rest of the state a fair shake"). Most are academics of one sort of another (six are college teachers, three run progressive galleries, and all 10 of them have earned postgraduate degrees). Their art varies much in quality. But not in ideology. They are feminists, the lot of them. Issues of "gender consciousness," to quote skillful Nina Felshin, the curator who picked them, are central to their art.

Most of them agree that men have done them wrong, have exploited them, abused them or judged them by their bodies rather than their minds.

The males who appear in "Vague Longings/Little Deaths," a grid composed of photographs shot by Gail Brown, are piggish to the max. All of them are voyeurs, which is not so surprising, since these photographs were taken, notes the catalogue, at "a local 'titty bar,' as it is called by its employees, near {the photographer's} home in Highland, where night after night 'exotic' female dancers strip down to G-strings as they enact a variety of male fantasies."

The males implied by Ann Lovett's preachy photographed collages are guys who love explosions, macho missiles, fighter planes and other tools of war. Her women are advertising models. By juxtaposing images -- of, say, a Minuteman 3 missile and the globe of planet Earth with a Christmas tree ball (shattered) -- Lovett is telling us that women's power "lies in their ability to sexually attract men, while men use -- and abuse -- their power ... in the area of global politics." Julie Zando, the one video artist represented, juxtaposes footage of state official Bud Dwyer's televised suicide with "erotically suggestive" images of women, thus "equating" Dwyer's public suicide with the plight of "women who must seek power via exhibitionism and exploitation -- they gain power only through death-of-self."

Women who dress up are mocked by many of these artists, as are bridal veils and bathing suits. Gail Nicholson, for instance, photographs empty bathing suits. "Shopping for a bathing suit, not to mention wearing one, strikes terror in the heart of every mortal woman," the curator observes. Linn Underhill has built her grid out of details of smiling mouths photographed at weddings. She tacks on love-song lyrics ("I'm in the mood for love, simply because you're near me ...") and paragraphs of text ("the flat, the lease, the rent, the key, the toaster oven ...") to suggest -- surprise, surprise -- that "romantic ideals of marriage are not what they're cracked up to be."

Capitalist industrialists abuse women too. That is the chief message of Lynn Schwarzer's computer-generated prints. One displays a picture of a bobbin with this text: "By 1909, 36 of every 100 millworkers died before they reached their 25th birthday. Poverty was so extreme that pregnant women worked until just before they delivered, or gave birth in the mill, between the looms."

Curator Nina Felshin, a former Washingtonian, was working at the Corcoran 19 years ago when that gallery arranged an all-male biennial. "Although I had nothing to do with organizing that show," she writes, "neither did I yet feel an appropriate outrage. The 1970s would change that radically." She now accepts the "notion that the organization of vision -- 'the gaze' -- has historically been identified with the male position." But she still retains too sharp an eye to let her now-correct thinking entirely control the appearance of her show.

Group shows tend to sprawl. But all its ordered grids make this one clean and tight. It is furthermore much helped by the admirable self-portraits of artist Gayle Johnson, whose pictures are the most impressive in the show. For one thing, they are paintings. What a treat it is, among these photographs and texts, to find paintings made from life, paintings made by hand. The artist dresses up (in towel-turbans, bibs and shawls, sunglasses, bandanas), mugs before her mirror, and then paints what she sees. Among all these finger-wagging screeds it comes as a relief to find an artist who accepts both the discipline of portraiture and the joy of play.

A kind word should be said as well for artist Marion Faller, who calls her sequence of photographs "Time Capsule." Faller's 45 still lifes, Felshin explains, record "the contents of her son's pockets as they were emptied on laundry day for a period of more than two years." We see: his pocket knife, his comb, candy wrappers, dimes and pennies, a die, Fourth of July sparklers, pebbles, a link of his bicycle chain, torn ticket stubs, a shoelace. Felshin, attempting to squeeze a feminist reading out of these touching pictures, writes that "Faller, the photographer/mother/woman, positions herself in the role of viewer/voyeur, a role culturally designated as male. ... Simultaneously, her complicitous son, represented by the gender-specific contents of his pockets, is positioned as the object of her gaze, a role culturally assigned to the female."

Oh, well.

You need not regard viewing as a male act, nor classify old candy wrappers, ticket stubs and dimes as "gender-specific" stuff, to find within these wholly unpretentious photographs the friendly and familiar smile of a mom.

"The State of Upstate: New York Women Artists" closes July 8.