IT'S a cross between the Black Hole of Calcutta and Luray Caverns. Spelunkers and sensory-deprivation-tank addicts have the advantage when entering the black room that is part of "Directions 1986" at the Hirshhorn Museum.
This installation, James Turrell's "Meso," takes you inside yourself -- if you have a half-hour to spare and don't mind waiting in apparent total darkness until your night vision kicks in, and even then you're not sure what you're seeing. Eventually you stop bumping into the black walls. While some say the light in there is ultimately perceived as blue and red, here's one vote for a green haze in the shape of the Milky Way.
The seven other artists in this show follow different directions. Half of them do landscapes, part of a trend of looking toward 19th-century American landscape artists for inspiration. The rest go for baroque.
Peter Fleps' landscapes are mounted on mile markers of ceramic tile, linoleum, aluminum or copper. When his landscapes are to be hung on a wall, he again uses a variety of materials to frame them. Though most of the paintings are simple tree-line tracery, "Lost" projects a mood: Disturbing dark clouds crouch against the earth. Sunlight flickers out behind the darkening hills. It's a sense of non-place, and there's that black hole again.
Yolanda Shashaty's scapes are bolder, more emotive. "Pearl" projects the ambiguity of benign colors, aqua and green, and an engulfing, consuming, high-crested sea. For her, landscape is a point of departure for abstraction, as it is for Alice Fellows, whose sensuous images and passionate coloration derive from Georgia O'Keeffe.
Melissa Miller's animals barely escape being cutesy as her "Nighteaters" dance in the moonlight. Like the black room, it's a look aanother side of things, the night side. Nature is indifferent, and about as malevolent as a raccoon eating cabbages.
The Museum has termed the second half of this show baroque, for the art parallels those works of the 17th-century that were meant to engage the viewer with their excesses.
Hope Sandrow's photos, shot from disorienting angles in the Metropolitan Museum, are excessively perplexing, while Frank Stella's constructions are excessively loud. Stella's "Cones and Pillars," a series of three- dimensional paintings, clamor wildly. Theyre mathematical symbols let loose, cones and semi-circles painted with a melange of stripes and scribbling. It looks as if Stella found scraps of paper that had fallen randomly on his studio floor and copied them, which is something he is said to have done on occasion.
Robert Morris' ornate "Burning Planet Series" engages us in cataclysm. The swirling flame of his central paintings radiates into the surrounding frame, which is made up of apocalyptic relief sculpture. Details on his baroque frames are human skeletons, organs, fetuses, half-faces and hands, fossilized in the mud of destruction.
From there, the black room is straight ahead.
DIRECTIONS 1986 -- At the Hirshhorn Museum through March 30.