Whether it's in or out, up or down, Washington galleries are on the move

One is a newcomer to the Dupont Circle circuit, another the consolidation of two branches, the third a kind of mass migration that could shift eight P Street dealers into one downtown location.

Those dealers, led by art shipper Robert Lennon of Artransport, are trying to buy the old Sloane Warehouse at the rear of 631 D St. NW, the eight floors of which they would like to transform into eight galleries of 2,300 square feet each.

Rebecca Cooper, Protetch-McIntosh, Pyramid, Haslem, Gallery K, Diane Brown, Middendorf/Lane and Harry Lun are currently linvolved.

Six other dealers from New York West Virginia and Maryland also have expressed interest in joining the group in a nearby building on which Lennon holds an option to buy.

Why would they move? "Pure economics," says Diane Brown, who is eager for larger, less expensive quarters, particularly a co-op or condominium arrangement that would allow all the dealers a good investment and tax advantages, as well as shared costs and good space.

"The zoning board has approved. Now we're just waiting for the approval of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp," says Lennon, who seems more patient than the dealers who last week were busily shooting off letters of PADC trustees and members of Congress, asking them to move the project along. It has been stalled at PADC since February.

What would happen to the decade-olf P Street strip if so many dealers left? "Others would come in," says one dealer. "It would drop dead," says another. Could these dealers do as well downtown, away from the ambiance of Dupont Circle and the aura of the Phillips?

There is little doubt that they would add a great deal to the revitalization of the downtown area, already dotted with buildings full of artists' studios and growing numbers of galleries, including the just opened Jack Rasmussen Gallery at 313G St. NW, Studio, WPA, Miva, Intuitiveye and two auction houses, not to mention the nearby National Gallery, the National Collection of Fine Arts and National Portrait Gallery.

Moving into a large Victorian space this week was the Wade Gallery, 1726 21st St. NW, two blocks down from the Phillips Collection, and one block past the Barbara Fiedler Gallery at 1621 21st St. NW, staking out a nice new artway for the Dupont Circle area.

If Carol Wade can sustain the quality of the opening show, and survive, here could be one of the more interesting galleries in town.

The opener includes several first-rank New York artists, all rarely seen here, and, oddly enough, almost all related one way or another to Robert Rauschemberg. The connecting link is Rauschemberg's former wife, artist Sussan Weil, who works with torn, crushed and folded paper, seen here in several examples. She is the mother of Christopher Rauschenberg, whose surprising and amusing photographs are also on view.

For some years Weil has been married to sculptor Bernard Kirschenbaun, who has created for the opening a three-room installation consisting of hundreds of thin, galvanized wires suspended in elliptical patterns from a specially fabricated ceiling. The effect is of a sort of sculptural rain forest that confronts the visitor immediately.

Comparison with a similar installation in the Soto exhibition at the Hirshhorn last year will be inevitable for those who saw it. Clear thin tubes of plastic hung from a ceiling grid, providing visitors with a dense, sensual experience. Kirschenbaum's work is far more complex and intellectually rooted, providing "clearings" in this forest of wires where one can feel a childlike joy of discovering a protected haven. Once discovered, other "havens" can be found by extracting the logic of the piece from the elliptical patterns on the ceiling. There are 21 ellipses, some overlapping, others concentric, but each different in shape and size from the others. The shapes were worked out on a computer, which the artist uses regularly in his work, seen often at Sculpture Now in New York.

The most surprising aspect of the Kirschenbaum piece is its overall elegance, despite its construction from rough-looking galvanized wire. The built-in shadowless lightning helps. "You can make beautiful things from simple materials," says Kirschenbaum, whose love of underlying geometries led him originally into architecture. Before turning full-time to sculpture, he was, in fact, a partner of Buckminster Fuller in the production of geodesic domes. A solo show by this artist would be welcome.

An artist of particular note but not related to the Rauschenberg-Kirschenbaum clan is Bill Alpert, whose striking wall-hung assemblages deal with the backs and insides of things, here, a stylishly reworked canvas turned to the wall, and a construction of frames and stretchers. His works, that of dancer-choreographer Judy Rifka, flutist Richard Landrey and one uneventful painting by Rauschenberg himself, hang in spacious, quiet rooms upstairs.

Moving out and up is the Wolfe St.Gallery of Alexandria, which has now consolidated into its Georgetown location at 1204 31st St. NW.

"With the profit from the sale of the Alexandria property, we will now be able to market out artists on a national and international scale," says proprietor Louis Andre, who is off this weekend for the invitational Bologna (Italy) Art Fair.

There he will give his stable of Washington artists international exposure, among them Tom Dineen, Susan Middleman, Holda Thorpe, newcomer Jon Friedman and photographers Bernis and Peter von zur Muehlen. Photo dealer Kathleen Ewing also will exhibit several Washington photographers at the Bologna fair.

Also on view in Louis Andre's booth at Bologna will be two artists currently showing at Wolfe St. Gallery, Boston watercolorist Karen Moss and marble carver Maggie Judycki, whose luscious abstract forms make it hard to keep hands off. Moss is one of a growing number of artists who use watercolor - traditionally a quiet, intimate medium - in large, bold formats, rivaling paint. Her closeups of green growing things, often seen through the grid of a chainlink fence, are best when green and fence tangle into near abstraction.

Bolder still and considerably more accomplished are the multipart watercolors of Patricia Tobacco Forrester around the corner at Fendrick Gallery, 3059 M St., NW. Whereas Karen Moss first pencils in her compositions and then applies the watercolor, coloring book style, Forrester's huge renditions of California woodlands, trees and cacti are painted directly from nature on two, three or four elephant-folio sized sheets of paper, exaggerating the color into the surreal while sustaining the natural form. Her mossy bay trees, California maples and silvered groves are tours de force of watercolor painting.Through June 17.

Incidentally, owner Barbara Fendrick will soon leave for the 10th International Festival of Painting at Cagnes-sur-Mer in southern France. Fendrick artist Ed McGowin, along with Rebecca Davenport, will be featured there from July 1-Sept. 30, after which they will exhibit at the Musee d'Art Moderne, Paris, from Oct. 3-Nov. 4.