IN 1956, E.M. GOMBRICH gave the Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art. "Art and Illusion," the volume that came out of his talks, may be the smartest art book ever written. Not every one of the Mellon lecturers who've come since then has risen to those heights, but the annual series remains one of the world's most prestigious forums for smart talk about art. This year's lectures, titled "Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock," are being given by Kirk Varnedoe, who made his name as the lead curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and has recently moved to Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. If past books and exhibitions are anything to go by, Varnedoe's six lectures should shine a bright new light onto postwar abstraction. They should also be gripping, because he's one of the art world's most stimulating and amusing speakers.
-- Blake Gopnik
At the National Gallery's East Building auditorium, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, beginning Sunday, March 30 and continuing through May 11. Sundays at 2 p.m. Free. Call 202-737-4215 or visit www.nga.gov.
ARENA STAGE'S revival of the groundbreaking Fats Waller musical "Ain't Misbehavin' " is the springboard for Arena's daylong examination Saturday of the role of black artists in American theater. "Cultural Capital and the Dynamics of African American Performance" will explore such topics as African American musical theater and how black performers have helped to shape theater in Washington. Participants will include historians, journalists and cultural critics. There will also be performances by the Washington-based Sweet Heaven Kings, a gospel and percussion choir and the Smooth and EZ Hand Dance Troupe.
-- Peter Marks
At the Hirshhorn Museum, Independence Avenue and Seventh Street SW. Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free; reservations are required. Call 202-234-5782 or visit www.arenastage.org.
LOT'S WIFE CONFRONTS GOD in her Brooklyn kitchen in "The Return of Lot's Wife," an evening-length dance- theater work by Sara Pearson/Patrik Widrig and Company. Pearson and Widrig, who have studied the techniques of Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis, were last in the area two years ago with witty and poignant works centering on rituals of life and death. Now they confront obedience. And salt.
-- Sarah Kaufman
At Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. Saturday at 8 p.m., March 30 at 4 p.m. $18; $14 members, students and seniors; $6 ages 17 and younger. Call 202-269-1600 or visit www.danceplace.org.
AS THE LEAD SINGER and songwriter of Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan got a little carried away with that messianic shtick of his, and if he hadn't disbanded the group in 2000, you could imagine them today holed up in a Texas compound preaching to the Branch Corganians. In his new group, Zwan, and on his new album, "Mary Star of the Sea," Corgan doesn't exactly retreat from his spiritual side, but he holds it in check long enough to tether the songs to this planet instead of letting them waft into the great beyond. "Mary" is lighter and more fun than anything Corgan dreamed up with his Pumpkins.
-- David Segal
With Queens of the Stone Age. At Towson Center Arena, 8000 York Rd., Towson. Saturday at 7:30 p.m. $29.50 general admission; $24.50 student section, plus service charges. Call 202-432-SEAT or 800-551-SEAT or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
SUSAN GRAHAM IS a wonderful mezzo-soprano -- both patrician and deeply emotive. Such is her celebrity that it is usually necessary to hear her in an opera house or a large auditorium, but tomorrow night at 7:30 the Vocal Arts Society is presenting her in the more intimate climes of the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, where she will be accompanied by Malcolm Martineau. The program will include music by Brahms, Debussy and Poulenc.
-- Tim Page
At the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. $30. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.