The Washington Project for the Arts has picked a new director. He is Jock Reynolds, 36, a California artist with extensive experience in education, government and arts administration. He will assume the post in the fall.

Al Nodal, whom he replaces, is a former Reynolds student. Nodal, who has run the WPA since 1978, will leave Aug. 1 to become director of the exhibition center of the Otis Art Institute of the Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles.

The WPA's trustees considered 180 applicants, and interviewed more than 20, before voting Reynolds the job at its Friday evening meeting.

He comes to Washington with a variety of credentials.

Reynolds the artist has exhibited in France, Germany, Australia and Japan. He has participated in 44 exhibitions, 13 of them solo shows. He also has staged more than 20 performance pieces. He often collaborates with his wife, Suzanne Hellmuth, and together they showed their sculptures-made-with-photographs in 1982 at the WPA.

Reynolds the teacher has been director of San Francisco State University's Center for Experimental and Interdisciplinary Arts since 1977. Graduate students there work with film, video, performance, outdoor installations and more traditional forms of art. Born in New Jersey, Reynolds was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and at the University of California at Davis, where (after studying with painters Wayne Thiebaud and William T. Wiley and ceramic sculptor Robert Arneson) he received his master of fine arts degree in 1972. He earned his doctorate in theater art at California State University at San Francisco in 1978.

Since 1976, Reynolds, alone or in association with other artists, has received five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. He also is a former Fulbright fellow and a member of the national policy panel for the Endowment's artist-in-education program.

The WPA will not be the first alternative art space that Jock Reynolds has run. In 1975, he helped found 80 Langton Street, a San Francisco analogue of the WPA, and during the mid-'70s was that institution's president.

"I've been watching the WPA for years," said Reynolds. "I'm enormously impressed with its staff, and with Al Nodal, who is one of the few directors smart enough to know when to leave. I hope to expand its programs in video, film and education. I'd been feeding names to the search committee for a year. Then they offered me the job."

WPA president Aaron Levine yesterday described Reynolds as "the best thing since sliced rye."

"Reynolds," said Nodal, "has more expertise, interest in and commitment to artists' spaces than anyone I know."

At first, Reynolds will serve the WPA part time. He already has accepted a fall position as artist-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and intends to commute between Cambridge and Washington before settling here in January.