Bill Traylor’s art gathers force the more you see of it. The self-taught artist, who was born into slavery and took up drawing and painting only in the last decade of his life, left behind more than 1,000 works when he died, in 1949. Any one or two of them leaves a weak impression. His figures seem crude and even childlike, and he never mastered some of the basic skills of standard representation. But when his work is assembled together, one sees its overwhelming ambition. Traylor wasn’t just making images, he was creating a world, a coherent, expansive and emotionally raw understanding of the time, place and people that he knew. The Smithsonian American Art Museum has brought together 155 works by Traylor, from his early pencil drawings of human and animal figures to his later composite paintings, in which multiple figures are rendered in enigmatic groupings and collective activity. In a style that often resembles early Native American imagery and prehistoric cave painting, he conveys tension and emotion, size and placement, class and temperament, animation and activity. Through March 17 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. — Philip Kennicott
The title of the National Gallery of Art’s concise exhibition of Dutch maritime art keeps the focus on the liquid and atmospheric: “Water, Wind and Waves: Marine Paintings From the Dutch Golden Age.” The show covers the major themes of maritime art: the technological celebration of the sailing ship, the perils of storms and rocky coast lines and the inevitable destruction of life and property, the contest between naval powers and important battles at sea, the beauty of the ocean and the coastline, and the social adaptations man has made to live in close communion with the watery part of the world. There are a handful of important and sometimes spectacular paintings, including large canvases by Willem van de Velde the Younger, the master, and by Simon de Vlieger (with whom van de Velde studied), Ludolf Backhuysen and Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, the first of the great Dutch maritime painters. Through Nov. 25 at the National Gallery of Art West Building . — P.K.
Walk through the Rachel Whiteread exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, and the dominant emotion is one of thankfulness. The British sculptor, who for decades has made casts of things in the world — the interior of a room, the space under a chair, the insides of a water bottle, even an entire house in East London — hasn’t wasted a minute of your time. Her work lingers in the memory, draws you both deeper into your own head and back to the world. For almost a decade before the National Gallery’s East Building closed for renovations in 2013, Whiteread’s white-plaster monolith “Ghost” sat on the mezzanine level. It is one of the artist’s essential early works, her first effort to cast the interior of a room-size space. That work is now the centerpiece of this exhibition, first seen at the Tate Britain last year, which surveys the arc of Whiteread’s career, from the domestically scaled quotidian objects (the underside of a mattress, the inside of a closet) she was making in the late 1980s to the focus on color and luminosity in a series of door and window casts made in the past decade. Through Jan. 13 at the National Gallery of Art East Building. — P.K.
Cellphone reception can be spotty at Glenstone, the Potomac, Md., art museum that recently opened a redesigned campus, including a new 204,000-square-foot gallery space called the Pavilions. Signal is scarce in the large open-air courtyard of the cast-concrete building, where the only sound is water flowing through a lily pond, and the only glimpse of the outside world is a hawk circling overhead. Grasses planted on the green roof wave in the wind, and frankly, any thought of pulling out the cellphone vanishes. Glenstone opened in 2006 as a quasi-public museum on the grounds of the estate of Mitchell and Emily Rales, accessible a few days a week by reservation only. That space has become a pendant to the $200 million Pavilions building, a collection of 11 interconnected galleries set into a gentle hill, with the water court as the visual and aesthetic heart of the experience. Everything is quietly spectacular, with curated views to the outdoors that present nature as visual haiku, while the interior feels uncannily like an architectural rendering, a ghost-scape of geometry and light and subtle shades of white and gray. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. glenstone.org . — P.K.