For some years now, the whimsical Patrick Ireland has been creating art from a mere hank of rope, some color, and a head full of good ideas. This he has accomplished by stringing rope, high up, from one building to another, across vast expanses of air. From below, such works can indeed be read as line drawings against the sky.

More recently, Ireland has also been working inside, filling whole rooms (many of them temporarily installed in museums) with his rope drawings. He has also begun to saturate the walls of the rooms with color, adding complexity and enveloping mood to his installations.

Watercolor proposals for other such installations are currently on view at the Protetch-McIntosh Gallery, 2151 P St. NW. The best of them also read as abstractions that set up roomlike volumes and then toy with the viewer's perception of that space. That is also the idea behind the big, beautiful blow-ups of these drawings painted directly on the gallery walls. In the translation, however, something quite spectacular has been added.

This is the first time Ireland has painted on the wall -- or on this scale -- and, like his rope-pieces, these will be obliterated when the show closes June 7. "I'm not making art for the ages. I'm making art in one place for a limited time for whatever community I can find there," he explains.

This welcoming attitude -- so different from the earlier, public-be-damned, minimal esthetic whence Ireland came -- comes through clearly in these lush and beautiful works, and viewers who stand still long enough will find themselves enveloped in the warm, joyful embrace of the loosely brushed color. Romanian-born artist Noche Crist has been an active member of Washington's avant garde for 15 years, the period covered by her retrospective at Gallery 10, 1519 Connecticut Ave. NW. Whatever the medium -- sculptural assemblages made of cast acrylic, lace and peacock feathers, low-relief wall plaques made of modeling paste or prints -- her works burst with energy as they play out their elusive, often bizarre narrative dramas.

Crist's work is pure theater, and though her allegorical themes seem to be coded messages without a key, she has developed her own, highly distinctive cast of characters to play them out. Voluptuous nudes (sometimes with a cartoony look), romp and pose and engage in erotic activity with Bosch-like half-human, half-demonic creatures.

Unlike most artists, Crist's work has not so much changed over the years as it has proliferated in format and scenario. "Madame est Eternelle," typical of the painted reliefs, is also one of the more amusing and accessible examples. With its many references to women in art of the past, it seems to be an allegory of female survival. So is this whole body of work. The show continues through June 14.

At WPA, 1227 G. St. NW, Noche Crist is but one of 22 area artists whose work has been installed to show visitors to the International Sculpture Conference (June 4 to 7) what several good Washington sculptors are up to. It's a noble attempt, even though several of them are not represented by their best work.

Crist is effective here in moving from the small scale of her Gallery 10 show to a room-size environment called "the Transylvanian Bride." It features a bed with a bridal veil tossed upon it, along with an inundation of silk tulle, mirrors, shrines and perching demons who seem to have just observed the union of bride and beast.

Other installations include Tom Green's schematized room, entitled "Yellow," and Lee Haner's grotesque but funny tableau featuring three flying rubber chickens frightened aloft by a screaming cat. The first chicken has just flown into a wall and broken its neck. Of considerably longer-lasting value is Elizabeth Falk's fine figurative bronze called "The Line."

Joan Danzinger's mysterious new "Procession" -- a figure born aloft by shrouded penguins -- is a highly evocative piece that eschews whimsy for stirring surrealism. Rebecca Kamen, Nick Ward, Dickson Carroll and newcomer Alan Stone are well represented, while Jenny Lea Knight deserves a far more generous installation, plus a better selection.

The show inside WPA is the most important of the indoor sculptural events being planned by that institution to coincide with the Sculpture Conference, with funding coming from the D.C. Arts Commission. Several other outdoor site installations have also been arranged in various downtown spaces, with artists already hard at work, among them Jim Sanborn, Nade Haley, Rockne Krebs and Sam Gilliam. Patrick Mohr's Soaring "Spiritsails," with its whipping sails, clattering booms and yardarms, is already half-installed on WPA's own facade.

Leonard Cave David Staten, Ed Zerne and others, however, are busy preparing to show at the Kann's site, 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, while two more indoor shows are already being installed inside the district and Lansburgh buildings. WPAs director, Al Nodal, deserves a big pat on the back for a heroic effort to give Washington sculptors a piece of the conference action. All of the above will be on view through June 14.

Though student shows are not customarily reviewed in this column, it seems time that note was taken, not only of the proliferating numbers of serious student artists turning up in high schools these days, but also of the hard-working, but often unheralded artist-teachers who inspire and instruct them in both the practice and the appreciation of art. They have become a major force in building the audiences of the future.

Take, for example, the 18th Annual Festival of the Arts, which took place at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda earlier this week. At 8 a.m. the giant fieldhouse was empty save for several pails placed under several leaks in the roof. By nightfall, however, the place was bursting with hundreds of paintings, graphics, photographs, ceramics, and throngs of students, parents and friends.

As one would expect, the works varied widely, but the paintings made by the students of artist Walter Bartman suggested a truly fine teacher at work. The photography section of the show -- now so large that it fills another hall -- included much fine work done under Morgan Fowle. Among the many good photographers, Stephen Schwartz and the witty Mark Bildman were standouts. Of the painters, the highly imaginative Eugene Corkery and Tharin Holder bear watching.