MANY OF THE "Intimate Environments" at McIntosh-Drysdale Gallery are smaller than life. But these vignettes are not to be confused with the miniatures in the current show at the National Geographic. These have a larger purpose than gee-whiz verisimilitude.

The "Intimate Environments" compensate for their small stature by giving the viewer the advantage of having it all to himself. This is especially true of Susan Leopold's light boxes. One looks through a fisheye lens, one person at a time, at rooms made cozy by subtle lighting, an empty apartment, a kitchen with a bowl of alphabet soup on the table; on the windowsill, a watch that the lens turns Daliesque.

Pat Lasch's collections of aged objects and scraps come together best in her "Death Ship" -- a surreal model bark formed from a downy duck, after Hieronymus Bosch. Lasch, who started out decorating wedding cakes, applies the same process of accretion to her sculpture. But despite the orchids that adorn her works, they are not joyous, nor even pretty, but haunting and disturbing.

Life in miniature, for Rex Slack, who grew up in West Virginia, is an abandoned house, complete to the cobwebs. He makes his own crumbling plaster. His images reverberate with decay and loss. He has made a monument to a town destroyed by the closing of a steel mill, and then by flood, and does a very personal homage to his grandmother: It's a TV that talks. Her living room is inside it.

Claudia DeMonte, with her terra cotta rooms, recreates paintings, but in three dimensions: the crumpled odalisque from Renoir, the sensual, colorful odalisques from Matisse. These are delightful renderings, slightly incorrect in every detail, and DeMonte manages to capture the melting feeling of a painting.

Now, Roland Reiss deals in corporate images. His "Adult Fairy Tales" take place in boardrooms where none of the players says what he means (and neither does the artist). One of the dressed-for-success women has a sledgehammer by her armchair. A pale alterego in a business suit spills paint on the carpet. You figure it out.

"Intimate Environments" will be at McIntosh-Drysdale Gallery, 406 Seventh Street NW, through November 14. Hours are 10 to 5, Tuesday through Saturday.

Ideas and icons softly wash up on the shore. The ankh, the omega, the Beatles. A ceremonial robe and Marilyn Monroe. The gentle pages from J.W. Mahoney's "White Album & Others," at Wallace Wentworth Gallery, sweep over the mind like waves.

Mahoney lifts images from modern magazines, art history books, and other sources -- the more arcane the better -- using the humble method of Xerography. He combines them with poetry from Shakespeare, Rilke, Princess Shikishi and Jim Morrison to make new relics of old philosophy, mounted on wood.

"These same thoughts people this little world."

The Shakespearean quote appears on "The Long Voice," the largest triptych here, with Japanese characters meaning "Iron Flute," pictures of "Gods disguised as faeries," a 17th-century Swedish harbor fort, a seabird and a stag, and that's not all. Mahoney leaves lots of spaces for personal interpretation here -- some may say too many.

The work is obscure, but not painfully so. Mahoney provides what he calls "an accompanying libretto." But there is no one true meaning for all these things thrown together, this artistic clang. "Heroism Without Irony?" is probably an exception, with photos of John and Oko and the guitarist from Big Brother and the Holding Company, and two candles. It is a shrine to a group of unmemorialized veterans of a different stripe.

Around the gallery rooms are arranged homey furnishings (a 37-drawer Korean medicine chest) that resonate with these found images, and knickknacks (a pyramid, a quartz crystal, a lacquer apple, a plastic tommy gun -- chose your icon), that add to the mystification. The work itself is a modest black and white, and rather serious; it's mainly cerebral.

But a quote from "La Revue Blanche" (1892) in Mahoney's "The White Album: The Worship," sums it up: "We have seen enough of red coral: let it be blue. One of the elements of art is novelty . . . "

"The White Album & Others" by J.W. Mahoney will be at Wallace Wentworth Gallery, 2006 R Street NW, through November 7. Hours are 11 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday.

M.P. Curtis photographs things and places that by any measure should be thought ugly, and makes them beautiful -- a hydroelectric plant and a men's room, for instance.

Imagine what he can do with a little basic material. Our own Dumbarton Oaks, for example, becomes a Palladian villa, and though you have wandered these paths, they never looked like this. When he uses infrared film, the leafy trees burst into lush blossom, and glow. His soft, painterly landscape photography is reminiscent of the work of the Pictorialists at the turn of the century.

In other photos, Curtis finds objects, like the empty wicker wheelchair on the breezeway, that say more about people in their absence. His people are mythical shadows, a figure haunting a room in a farmhouse, fleeing past the window, escaping from what, into what? Curtis seems to search out those phantasmic moments between events.

Photos by M.P. Curtis will be on display at the Martin Gallery, 1609 Connecticut Ave. NW, through November 5. Hours are 11 to 6 Wednesday through Saturday.