GRAC A MORAIS, one of "Five Portuguese Artists" whose work is displayed at the International Monetary Fund, lives in Lisbon. When she visited Tras Os Montes -- a poor, cold, inhospitable place in northeast Portugal -- it was to return to her childhood, and perhaps find some artistic inspiration in going home again.
But when she returned to Lisbon, she didn't paint women in costumes, the ceremony of the pig-slaying, the folkways. Instead, it was "The Transfiguration of the Forbidden." The Christian imagery is obvious, but the people reaching up Christlike, ghostly images and floating shadows, are women. And they project not just the suffering of women in Tras os Montes, but the soul-wrenching of the fado singers of Lisbon, and the isolation of the women, dressed in black, who can be seen walking alone on any road in the Alentejo. In fact, Morais speaks of people, anywhere.
In a very different way, Paula Rego echoes Morais' angst. Living in London, Rego doesn't appear to draw directly from her heritage. Aesop's Fables and Fritz the Cat are more likely sources. Her Disneyesque creatures are up to no good. Imagine, our friends the animals. In league with humans (of course), they perform ambiguous sadistic acts.
The very large painting "All in Flames" is chaos through the looking-glass, and babies being fried in a corner is only part of it. It's a Noah's Ark that should have sunk. Even "Girl With Dog" is not a gentle scene, where the irritable mistress forces her pet to drink from a cup. Adding to the impact of Rego's work is the fact that these are deceptively attractive paintings.
Julio Pomar works in Paris but it's clear he hasn't forgotten his roots. He is a fine painter with a vision and it's too bad there aren't more of his works here. On tiles, very Portuguese, he fashions stylized tigers, but his painting, of the poet Fernando Pessoa, is simply the best in the show. You can see the poet had a small mustache and wore glasses and a top hat, but these are incidentals. It is an intensity that Pomar captures, and he seems to share Pessoa's feeling that a poet's responsibility is to avoid those things "through which there passes no sense of the gravity and mystery of life."
Eduardo Luiz is another Parisian, and his precise realism recalls 19th-century trompe l'oeil painters. Where others speak of chaos, his work is controlled -- at least on the surface. He gives himself the face of a medieval alchemist in his ironically titled "Posthumous Self-Portrait." But the glass is cracked.
"The War of Toys" is waged on a chalkboard so realistic you must get up close to see it's paint on canvas. And there's an underlying threat in the game. A paper airplane, a top, a block, are arranged on the board or appear to fly past it. But the background formulae are formidable, and the child's toys look like the mathematician's tools.
Sculptor Joao Cutileiro, on the other hand, doesn't take things too seriously. He lives in Evora, central Portugal, where he makes his doll-like nymphettes, slightly kitschy and too cute for marble. Some would seem better done in cookie dough. But he also does distortions of female torsos in marble, and they work well, smooth and sensuous.
"Five Portuguese Artists" will be in the Atrium of the International Monetary Fund, 700 19th St. NW, through October 30. Hours are 11 to 5 Monday through Friday.
"America's Uncommon Places: The Blessing of Liberty" is a fascinating look at some of the sites from the National Register of Historic Places. The photo show is at Sumner School, 17th and M streets NW, which, by the way, is itself on the register. You would not be chagrined to find that a log cabin in Embarrass, Minnesota, is on the list. But, would you believe, plunk in the middle of nowhere, Colorado, a 1929 Sears, Roebuck house (Westly model)?
Some of the photographers have done clearcut, architectural stuff -- certainly competent and suitable for the show. But others impart a magical touch. A meeting room in the former Creek Council House in Okmulgee, Oklahoma (now a museum and library) projects some of its former glory. Photographer Gary Goldberg waited until the light flooded the shining floor just so.
Walking in the Jackson-Ward Neighborhood, a historic district in Richmond, Baldwin Lee saw the humor in two row houses that are negative images of each other -- evidence of a dispute as to whether the balcony, the eaves, the roof, the railings, should be painted light or dark.
And moody scenes: The pale glow in the sanctuary of America's first synagogue (in Newport). The stark symmetry of unfinished windows at the Longwood Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi -- where, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Northern workmen abandoned their tools (they're still there).
Be sure to take a look around at the historic site that houses this show. The Charles Sumner School is a lovely Victorian building. The first public high school graduation for black students was held there in 1877, and the school operated into the 1960s. After renovation, it reopened just last year as a museum and archives, furnished with antiques that range from an old-time organ to a Rock-Ola jukebox.
In addition, the school is hosting a handful of smaller exhibits, including one on the building of residential Washington, another of artifacts that the D.C. Archaeologist recently unearthed, and a show, "Exploring the Diaspora," of the paintings of Bernard Brooks. He has painted the Nigerian marketplace and Senegalese people, but most interesting is his twist on the traditional religious icons -- his madonna and child are black, and the celebrants at this Last Supper wear African masks.
"America's Uncommon Places: The Blessing of Liberty," will be at Sumner School, 1201 17th St. NW, through November. Bernard Brooks' work will be there through November 20. The building is open Monday through Saturday, 10 to 5.