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As an old Steve Martin bit demonstrates, you can’t be sad if you’re playing the banjo. Indeed, it’s also hard to feel blue even if you’re just listening to a banjo—this despite the fact that the instrument has been put to use in a great number of tragic situations. Consider the film Deliverance. Not exactly a happy hayride. But its theme song, “Dueling Banjos,” is a knee-slapping hoedown. Though today the banjo is most commonly associated with country and bluegrass—which is to say, whiter-than-white music—it evolved from the stringed gourd brought here by West African slaves. How it got from the plantation into Roy Clark’s hands is one of the mysteries that the exhibition “Picturing the Banjo” attempts to investigate. In addition to paintings depicting the subject, a variety of actual instruments and accoutrements will be on display, including something called a “tambourine stool.” I don’t want to hear anyone playing that. The show is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (to March 5; see City List for other dates) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. $8. (202) 639-1700. (Dave Nuttycombe)