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TO MARCH 13

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In an artistic career spanning almost five decades, Arthur Tress has followed a restlessly experimental approach, photographing everything from his own shadow to fish tanks filled with toy figurines. More than most photographers’, Tress’ projects have been driven by a narrative thread—but not “The Tao of Physics,” a kaleidoscopic series of abstractions that are as independent from one another as wayward electrons. In “Tao,” featuring works dating from the mid-’80s (an untitled piece is pictured), Tress “arranged found objects on textured backgrounds, such as cement, plastic, snow and sand,” the curators explain. He spray-painted these arrangements so that they exuded linear or wavelike patterns, then photographed the results in grainy black-and-white. Though some of Tress’ images suggest the nut-and-bolt close-ups of Margaret Bourke-White or the cut-paper abstractions of Francis Bruguiere, his most convincing images are those in which it’s hard to tell which raw materials he used—most notably the work that approximates, with stunning accuracy, cubist paintings by Georges Braque or Marcel Duchamp. But the series undercuts itself, as often happens in Tress’ work, with pretentiousness—in this case, the offenders are the works’ titles, which are seemingly random excerpts from the index of a book that compares physics and Eastern mysticism. Far more accessible are a few works from 2004 in which Tress photographed weathered surfaces and humble objects through a long tube. The spherical dimensions enforced by the tube produce images that suggest geological phenomena such as sedimentation, continental drift, and fracturing glaciers—a welcome dash of humor in an overly brainy exercise. The show is on view from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (and specified Sundays), to Sunday, March 13, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2100 C St. NW. Free. (202) 334-2436. (Louis Jacobson)