Rachel Schmidt’s “Ingrown,” on view at VisArts at Rockville. (Rachel Schmidt/VisArts at Rockville)

Only three artworks are currently on display in Kaplan Gallery, the largest of VisArts' exhibition spaces. But each installation in Rachel Schmidt's "Shadow Builders" is a little world in itself, constructed from physical objects, as well as light, sound, shadow and projected images.

Schmidt ponders ecosystems, both organic and synthetic, and the potentially catastrophic effects of human activity on the natural world. Many of her previous works employed small paper models of buildings or ships to represent teeming humankind, sometimes pitted against videos of threatened animals.

The Silver Spring artist's 2012-2016 experience as an exhibition coordinator at the Hirshhorn seems to have expanded her techniques. "Tension" consists of an ice floe of painted wooden shapes, floating just above the gallery's floor and lighted from below. This impressively eerie tableaux is complemented by video of scenes from an Asian city. The show's evocative audio-scapes (by Drew Doucette) include birdcalls and the sound of flowing water.

The video is more central to the other two pieces. Both heap arrays of container-shaped objects, made of tissue paper, that invoke the affluent world's throwaway culture. Wrapped around one of the room's corners, "Ingrown" beams the image of a dilapidated brick wall, scarred by a rupture that reveals a street scene in the distance. Human life goes on, oblivious, amid urban devastation and omens of much worse.


Janet Olney, “If x, Then y.” (Janet Olney/VisArts at Rockville)

Sarah Hardesty’s “Bound.” (Sarah Hardesty/VisArts at Rockville)

The strata are actual, but thin, in Sarah Hardesty's painted and scraped pictures. The local artist's "Moving Mountains," at VisArts' Common Ground Gallery, consists mostly of minimalist studies in cross-hatching. The roughly parallel lines are incised, freehand, into surfaces that are usually white and gray, but sometimes reveal glimmers of hot colors buried underneath.

A sculptural assemblage pushes bright hues to the fore by dangling a clutch of orange-painted branches in front of a wooden board that's been painted a reflective silver. Mirroring the paintings, the stick piece offers both a geometric arrangement and a contrast between the bold and the neutral. The effect is to give equal import to eternal archetypes and random variations.

Rachel Schmidt: Shadow Builders; Janet Olney: If x, Then y; and Sarah Hardesty: Moving Mountains Through Jan. 7 at VisArts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200. visartscenter.org.


Loriann Signori’s “Red Hot Mamas Return,” pastel on gold leaf, on view at Gallery B. (Loriann Signori/Gallery B)
Loriann Signori

The colors and textures of Loriann Signori's landscapes are soft and seemingly gauzy. Yet several of the smaller pastels in "Between Silences," the local artist's Gallery B show, were made on copper plates, and the large paintings are on wooden panels. Signori conjures great depths, but floats these illusions atop unabsorbent surfaces.

At first glance, Signori's pictures look similar, regardless of their size or medium. They usually depict woodlands in warm, autumnal hues. What distinguishes these hushed scenes is their ecstatic luminosity and heightened coloration. Sunlight appears almost liquid, while reds and oranges verge on the metallic.

In fact, the artist varies the formula in small ways, which can seem radical in this context. She rarely depicts either a human presence or large bodies of water, but "Early morning coffee" subtly works the silhouette of a house into a grove, and a stream of light plays on a lake or river in "the nightingale's secrets." A few pictures employ a different color scheme, whether blue-dominated or the electric yellow-and-purple counterpoint of "Lilac song at sunrise." Most unexpectedly, a few tiny oils on resin-board eliminate the customary horizon line. They're too small to get lost in, but if Signori tries this gambit on a larger scale, the results could be inundating.

Loriann Signori: Between Silences Through Dec. 30 at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Ave. #E, Bethesda. 301-215-7990. bethesda.org/bethesda/gallery-b.

This Is America

That there are "two Americas" is a common observation, but which two? In Gallery Underground's "This Is America," the breach is between archetypal Americana and contemporary dissent. Half of this exhibition, selected from a nationwide call, looks much like other political shows mounted locally since the latter days of the 2016 presidential campaign. The other part depicts a place distant from today's controversies.

The latter grouping includes Richard Weiblinger's wistful view of battered barns, their whitewash partly rinsed away. Similar in tone, but painted rather than photographed, is Cheryl Kramer's prairie-realist picture of a red barn with yellow school buses parked behind it. Funkier yet equally retro is Ian Bird's map of the United States, constructed of pieces of metal, many of them automobile-related.

Presiding over the other, more contentious America is Mark Graham's painted surrealist tableaux, which features a KKK member, a bullying cop and a chicken-headed man who dresses like Donald Trump. The news hook is entirely in the title of Rusty Lynn's billowing gray abstraction, dubbed "Pruitt's New EPA Air." Less specific to the moment, but just as pointed, are works by Rebecca Whitson and Emily Liddle. The first is an assemblage in which a dress is draped with red-stained tampons; the second is a pop-arty painting of a pink piggy bank that's attached by a chain to a shackle. For at least some of the show's contributors, American affluence has devolved into economic slavery.

This Is America Through Dec. 29 at Gallery Underground, 2100 Crystal Dr. (subterranean shopping arcade), Arlington. 571-483-0652. galleryunderground.org.