If the Federal Reserve Board wants to see what's really happened to the dollar, it need look not further than the concourse of its own building on C St. NW (between 20th and 21st). On view is a small exhibition of work by Venice, Calif., artist Karen Jossel, who has found a new use for the shrinking buck: Instead of trying to make money out of art, she's making art out of money. Literally.
Transforming $1, $2, $5, $10 and $20 bills into art is precisely what Jossel has in mind, and she accomplishes her goal by first blanket-stitching several bills of like denomination together with metallic thread and then delicately applying color to highlight certain elements of the design and eliminate others. "Money No. 20," for example, consists of 12 $2 bills that have been sewn together and painted over, except for the scene depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which appears on the back. Overall, the work has a surprisingly fragile and poetic aspect.
While it may be cheaper than using more traditional -- and now very expensive -- art materials, it could also be illegal. There are laws on the books that forbid the alteration or defacing of Federal Reserve notes, though the Fed has no plans at present to make a fuss.
Legal or not, it is clearly worth more than the sum of its parts. The show continues on the underground concourse level through June 26, unless the law prevails.
Meanwhile, upstairs in the lobby of the old Federal Reserve Board building, a larger and more serious show is on view: 32 master paintings from the Amherst College Collection, assembled under the title "Romantic Images." The point is to show off this fine, little-known collection and to illustrate that romanticism has been a persistent strain throughout art history, not only during the 19th-century "Age of Romanticism."
This little art history lesson turns out to be pure gravy; for, despite the inadequate lighting that makes so much os this show difficult to see, there are enough little gems from the 17th to the 20th centuries to make the most casual visit worthwhile. Representing the Europeans, there are several dramatic landscapes and appropriately romantic portraits by Sir Joshua Reyolds, Marie Louise VigeeLe Brun and others.
But is is the Americans who are best represented: Thomas Sully with a dashing self-portrait at age 26, and an idealized, no-grime-cowboy portrait by Thomas Eakins. Three small 19th-century American masterpieces are alone worth a trip: a tropical bird by Martin J. Heade, a waterlily by John La Farge and a superb little "Moonrise at Sea" by Albert Pinkham Ryder.The show, accompanied by a handsome and informative catalog, runs through June 10 and is open to the public weekdays during regular office hours. Visitors must sign in.
"What a pity people don't want my prints," wrote Camille Pissarro, the French Impressionist painter, in 1895.
Despite the lack of interest -- except on the part of a few friends, including Mary Cassatt and Degas (who shared his press with the artist) -- Passarro produced nearly 200 prints, most of them in only a few experimental impressions made for his own pleasure. That pleasure can now be shared at Hom Gallery, 2103 O St. NW, where 30 of Pissarro's small, chiefly black-and-white etchings and lithographs are on view.
The subjects are typical of the time and of his paintings: landscapes, peasants working the fields, nude bathers and an occasional view of Paris. There is in the prints, however, a greater variety than one would expect, and a greater depth. Here Pissarro has brought to each subject a unique and special intensity, so that every image has a mood entirely different from every other. A feathery, sylvan landscape in drypoint, for example, describes a visual experience that is wholly different from the sensuous, painterly "Bathers" lithograph, in which the brushwork actually seems to caress the figures.
There is much more to study and admire in this rare and beautiful show, which, along with the large retrospective now at the Boston Museum of Art, marks the 150th anniversary of the artist's birth. The Hom show continues through June 27.
E. H. Sorrells-Adewale, associate professor at Howard University, is showing work from the past eight years at the handsome Nyangoma's Gallery, 2335 18th St. NW. Though he has shown often at Howard, this is the artist's first commercial gallery show.
There are two early paintings included, but it is the subsequent sculpture that has justifiably made Adewale's reputation -- all wall-hung pieces assembled from found objects that, in his hands, take on the look of precious icons. Flattened, embossed and polished tin cans are transformed into elegant silver reliquaries, rusty keys into "keys of life." These are symbilic works filled with nonspecific religious and spiritual allusions, some African in origin, but all universal in meaning. "The Elder King," for example, is an abstraction that suggests a protective, god-like figure with raffia arms, but he reaches out in a gesture of benediction that can be understood anywhere.
Also on view are the sculptural ceramic totems of Yvonne Tucker and the extraordinary coil-built, glazed pots of Curtis Tucker, who manages to produce wholly original, modern forms that incorporate comtemporary narrative and the timeless qualities of the Greek vase. Both shows will close Sunday, and will be open today and tomorrow, noon to 6.