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Downright Dotty 

A puzzle hunt across Ohio

The Missing Piece, like its creator, Dott Schneider, defies easy description.

It does not open this week at the West Side gallery Legation so much as it commences from a starting point, like a scavenger hunt or a search party. It is part exhibition, but it's even more a guided meditation of sorts. Schneider, artist and self-styled "administrative Viking" at Spaces gallery, has been building 1,000 oversized two-by-two-foot jigsaw puzzle pieces for years now, but you can't see all of them. Not without some legwork, at least.

What will be on display are 1,000 maps of Ohio, each one of which provides instructions to one of Schneider's pieces, which have been hidden across the state. Attendees are encouraged to take a map for themselves and hunt down one of the wayward toys — which they are welcome to keep — and hopefully derive their own meaning from them.

Each participant's grappling with an ambiguous symbol is meant to parallel the artist's own protracted quest. Schneider was born in Cleveland and studied art at École des Beaux-Arts in Rouen, France. In early 2006, she moved to Las Vegas. It was there, on an impromptu hike in the gold hills of the roadside, far from any buildings old or new, that she happened upon an oversized puzzle piece fashioned from particle board.

"Ah-ha! I finally found the missing piece!" Schneider remembers thinking at the time, only then realizing that there ever had been something missing in the first place. She's been working to interpret her discovery ever since; The Missing Piece is not an answer, but an airing of the question. Each of the thousand pieces in the show was cut from the original desert template.

"I'm no closer than I was when I started researching it in 2006," Schneider readily admits. "I've stated recently and often that it really is my white whale. I do consider the project valuable, because it keeps me questioning its significance. Someday I hope to solve the puzzle."

Schneider's project is tremendous in both its ambition — she has made an entire state her canvas — and its humility, insomuch as she knows she has no access to conclusive answers.

A reception — and map giveaway! — will be held on Friday, April 20, from 5 to 10 p.m. The show runs through May 12 at 1300 D West 78th Street; call 216-650-4201 to learn more or visit legationagallery.com.

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