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While the three shows at McLean Project for the Arts differ stylistically, each functions as a portal to an alternate universe. Abol Bahadori plants architectural interiors with lush vegetation to produce visions of places that are inviting but impossible. Osvaldo Mesa uses classical oil-painting technique to conjure mythic sites and magical talismans. Laura Grothaus fills hollowed-out books with tiny things, whether found or made, to spin a fable of an enchanted library discovered in an old house.

Some of the pictures in Bahadori’s “Inner Gardens” are paintings, but most are prints with added pigment, primarily watercolor. The printed elements depict hard-edge walls, floors and especially steps, which also function as steppingstones through space and across ponds. The added colors take the shapes of flowering plants, or can be purely abstract smudges and shimmers. The Iran-born local artist designs spaces that combine objective and subjective, playing on the dual meanings of “inner.”

Populated by koi, dragonflies and the occasional frog, Bahadori’s pictures exalt all sorts of creatures, while splashes of luminous pink and orange celebrate the glories of sunlight. These hymns to nature are set in man-made environments, however, and the boundary between organic and engineered can’t always be located. In one striking scene, a tree stands at the center of a room, the trunk’s upward thrust echoed by the shapes of the built columns behind it. No humans appear in Bahadori’s art, but his gardens imply the existence of gardeners.

Also exercises in make-believe naturalism, Mesa’s expertly made paintings often focus on amulets and fetishes that link the Baltimore artist to his Afro-Cuban origins. Some of the pictures in “Toys in the Hands of History” include realistic landscapes, but the painter often places meticulously modeled and shaded objects atop flat decorative patterns. The art movement that seems most central to Mesa’s work is surrealism.

“Return to the Library of L.E. Grothaus” includes a small sitting room and three paintings of everyday items and animals, all in red, on large sheets of paper. The focus, though, is the archive of six altered books and a video in which Grothaus explores the tomes and contemplates the existence of a seventh one. (It “changes form and refuses to reside on any one shelf,” says the Baltimore artist’s statement.) A book titled “Pond” contains a bright green void filled with a necklace of stones. It’s as inviting yet out of reach as any of Bahadori’s water features.

Inner Gardens: Works by Abol Bahadori

Toys in the Hands of History: Paintings by Osvaldo Mesa

Return to the Library of L.E. Grothaus: Altered Books by Laura Grothaus

Through June 15 at McLean Project for the Arts, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean. mpaart.org. 703-790-1953.

The title of Robin Bell’s Otis Street Arts Project show, “Objects,” refers to the collectibles packed into the front of the gallery. Among them are stuffed animals, skull replicas, electronic gizmos and a mask of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe (a souvenir of the D.C. artist’s first trip to his girlfriend’s homeland). But Bell is best known for making things that flicker, whether abstract videos or the anti-Trump slogans he projected on local buildings.

A photograph of an injunction to “Jail 45,” flashed on the Newseum’s facade, documents that campaign. Nearby are “Death Race 2024,” a video collage in which flames lap at the U.S. Constitution, and some anti-monarchist collages made in collaboration with Kosmo Vinyl, a former associate of the Clash. Yet politics don’t pervade this eclectic show.

Also included is a multiscreen abstract video in which blocks and orbs gyrate in contrapuntal motion, with the action always mirrored across some of the various monitors. The movements are similar in a cherry-blossom video Bell made with collaborators Matthew Curry and Jonathan Monaghan. The virtual blooms float, fall and rotate, while their images are posterized or turned into outline drawings. Bell is sometimes a sloganeer, but he also makes videos whose ecstatic locomotion is the entire subject.

Robin Bell: Objects Through June 15 at Otis Street Arts Project, 3706 Otis St., Mount Rainier. otisstreetarts.org.

Most of the artworks in “Taming Abstraction” are methodical rather than spontaneous, but that doesn’t mean the 13-artist Gallery Neptune & Brown show is devoted entirely to tidy patterns. Indeed, some of the most striking pieces pit order against randomness in the manner of David Row’s intriguing “Cool Logic.” The soft-hued print consists of brushstroke-like swoops overlaid by a web of hard-edge lines with dots at their intersections.

Even hazier are Christiane Baumgartner’s prints of closely grouped blue and purple dashes, which hint at rain clouds. In a print finished with hand-drawing, Barbara Takenaga arrays white streaks against a cosmic-blue field, suggesting a meteor shower. Both Erick Johnson and Nick Lamia paint geometric shapes whose precise forms are playfully contrasted by streaked or diaphanous colors.

Minimal means can yield very different results, as prints by Richard Serra and Paul Inglis illustrate. Serra’s black spiral, whose twists are complemented by grainy blotches, is just ink on paper, but it evokes the brawn of his huge steel sculptures. Inglis’ woodblocks fill sheets of paper with gridded patterns primarily in a single color, but they contain sectors that switch to a contrasting hue. The ingredients could hardly be more regular, but a simple shift from aqua to yellow can be startlingly vivid.

Taming Abstraction Through June 7 at Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th St. NW. galleryneptunebrown.com. 202-986-1200.

Swirling pigment alludes to intergalactic realms in Anne Marchand’s abstract paintings. The local artist’s established style continues in Zenith Gallery’s “Space Between.” Yet hard-edge shapes intrude into some of these pictures, offering a forceful visual contrast to the viscous textures and billowing forms common in Marchand’s work.

Conceptually, these additions complement the flowing paint that dominates most of Marchand’s compositions. The more solidly defined elements are mostly circles, semicircles and arcs, and appear to rotate within the paintings. This gives them a different sort of energy than the gushes of color, which are contained by only the edges of the canvas. Each picture is kinetic in its own way.

Most of Marchand’s recent works are thickly layered, with such items as glass beads partly outlined beneath the painted surface. Yet a few canvases, notably “Windings,” have an unexpected openness. Black rings spin within mostly white fields in this triptych, in which the voids are as visually important as the gestures.

Anne Marchand: Space Between Through June 15 at Zenith Gallery, 1429 Iris St. NW. zenithgallery.com. 202-783-2963.



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