THE Washington Project for the Arts has exceeded even its own remarkable standards of ingenuity this month by converting an unsightly light-well in the middle of its downtown building into a usable space for the display of art. To inaugurate the unlikely space sculptor Milton Komisar has taken full advantage of its tunnel-like verticality with a kinetic, electronic installation called "Swirling Helix."
To know exactly how it was made would be something like pulling the curtain on the Wizard of Oz, for the piece is pure sensation. Komisar, a California artist, works in the tradition of abstract light shows pioneered by Thomas Wilfred and his "Lumia" machines, although the effect is quite different because Wilfred employed projected light and Komisar uses sharp bands of light that are electrically generated.
What the viewer can see from a supine position on the carpeted floor of the darkened chamber is a sequence of plastic tubes or, more precisely, two sequences of tubes: one cylindrical, receding toward the top of the space, and the other a cascade of spiral forms. Colors pulse through the tubes at computer-programed intervals to the tune of pulsing sounds.
The colors do a lively, vertiginous dance through space, darting first one way, then another, and moving at different speeds. The effect of one 15-minute performance can be mesmerizing and exhilarating by turns. Fortunately the piece will remain on view for several months, for it deserves more than a single viewing.
Nearby, in one of the WPA's spacious, conventional galleries, there is an intriguing installation by Martha Jackson-Jarvis, one of Washington's more underrated artists. Jackson-Jarvis is a ceramicist whose forms are far from conventional. The WPA installation, hauntingly titled "East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Walking on Sunshine," actually consists of two multi-faceted pieces that are quite different in character.
One of them is made up of hundreds of dark, yam-like creatures (or plants) involved in some mysterious ceremony. The other consists of hundreds of forms--partially glazed ceramic sticks, hollowed-out rectangular receptacles, and free-standing clay tripods that look as if they are growing right before your eyes. These are embedded in sand and strewn purposefully across the floor.
The second piece surrounds the first, like an audience, but the two really don't work well together. Nonetheless, Jackson-Jarvis's achievement is considerable. The forms themselves are beautifully made and relentlessly interesting. They suggest sexual and organic dualities without insisting upon a single interpretation. Indeed, the vivid ambiguity of the work is its essential secret.
Jackson-Jarvis's work will remain on view through March 12. Her show, and Komisar's piece, and the "Options '83" juried exhibition in an upstairs gallery make a spirited combination. The WPA, 404 7th Street NW, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Baltimore Prints
"Five Baltimore Printmakers," an exhibition at the Mickelson Gallery, makes a good case for the quality of the graphics department at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Each of the artists teaches there, and each is admirably proficient in his or her chosen medium.
Richard Hellman's color etchings, especially the "Magic Forest" series, are notable for their vibrant textures. The nine different backgrounds for nine isolated flowers in Dan Dudrow's print, "Figure-Ground Capriccio," are quick studies in etching techniques. Allegra Ockler's prints, combining screen-printing and lithography, feature wondrously rendered shirts and blouses. John Sparks' series of lithographs, based upon a motif from a Rococo fountain in Trier, Germany, makes up a condensed book on technical transformations. Quentin Moseley's abstract color lithographs humorously defy the supposed flatness of the medium.
The Mickelson Gallery, 707 G St. NW, is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The exhibition continues through Feb. 28.