WHAT TO DO with the walls in a rotunda has been amply resolved by Washington artist William Dunlap. The solution: a quadradecahedron.


The fourteen sides of "Corcoran Panorama" form a cyclorama in the Corcoran's rotunda. It's the sort of circular art you have to visit a Civil War battlefield to see, which is exactly where Dunlap got his inspiration.

Spreading out on seven canvases, half of "Corcoran Panorama" is the site of the Battle of Antietam -- snow-filled fields, farmhouses, scattered monuments. An infinite row of Oregon deer heads cuts through the wintry scene. Dunlap says the line of bloody trophies stands for the carnage in that battle.

The other half of the landscape could be anywhere along Interstate 81 and the Blue Ridge in summer. Seething industrial plants impose themselves on a pastoral hunting scene. Shats of sunlight become dotted lines as they fall on the deep-green field -- threats of progress, in a world where everything has been marked and surveyed.

Although the industry looks like a nuclear power plant, Dunlap says otherwise: "My memory was paper mills in Mississippi that smell like the devil," he says.

"That's the way we see the landscape -- I'm not being judgmental at all. This is what I see -- hunters in 19th-century garb who can't control their dogs. The dogs are like people."

Though it's a lively work, this isn't merely a decorative project. It's one with content, to make you stop and get up close enough to read the battlefield map superimposed on the Antietam landscape.

"Round rooms make us uncomfortable," says Dunlap, who has sat and watched people scurry past the masterpieces that ordinarily hang in this rotunda.

"People don't stay in here," says Dunlap. "This is a way to ambush them."

CORCORAN PANORAMA -- On view through June 30