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TO DEC. 31

There’s no questioning Prilla Smith Brackett’s commitment to environmental conservation: In her paintings, she constantly reminds viewers that nature is often encroached upon by parked cars, overhead electrical wires, and other ugly signs of modernity. But although Brackett’s paintings do toy inventively with color variations and time displacements, her sleight of hand too often falls short. In her Remnants series (Communion #13 is pictured), Brackett paints an urban scene on what appears to be the jagged shards of a broken window, with the voids revealing a primeval forest—an effect that might have been heightened had she made the natural features of those two alternate realities match up more closely. In other works, Brackett splits her landscape renderings into alternating vertical bands of black and white and color—a trick that might have been more impressive had photographer Stephen Lawson not done something similar with more intellectual punch. (Lawson’s wide-angle landscapes are composed of thin strips of adjoining images shot at fixed intervals over several months.) As for Brackett’s Linkage series—which transforms the broken-window motif into simpler triptychs of alternating natural and urban scenes—it suffers from being done in ink and pencil leached of all color. By contrast, Brackett’s finest works are those that showcase her skills as a painter: her creamily impastoed city sidewalks and walls, for instance, and her breathtaking panoramas of the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania, which reinvent the works of the 19th-century American luminists by turning their drama down a notch. In Brackett’s best paintings—as in nature—simplicity triumphs. Her work is on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17 and Sunday, Feb. 2 to Tuesday, Dec. 31, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2100 C St. NW. Free. (202) 334-2436. (Louis Jacobson)