There was a time, not long ago, when Washington dealers didn't show sculpture because it just wouldn't sell. Oh, someone might buy a Remington cowboy if one turned up, or a bust of Beethoven or Freud. But modern sculpture? Those big dumb cubes? Those piles of dirt? Washingtonians were busy buying prints.

Things have been changing slowly, but changing nonetheless. And anyone who doubts it need only look at the flurry of red dots (meaning sold) and the blue dots (hold) on the walls of dozens of galleries currently saluting the 11th International Sculpture Conference. Dealers only salute art that sells, and at Middendort/Lane alone, sales already added up to $100,000 -- two days after the opening. Not bad for a print town.

Of course it must be said that the artists who own ConStruct, the Chicago sculpture co-op that organized this eight-person show, aren't just another bunch of stonecutters. Mark di Suvero and Kenneth Snelson have major international reputations; and it is not surprising that Snelson's sketch for his popular towering piece on the Hirshhorn plaza was snapped right up. John Henry's work is elegant and satisfying -- whether large or small, finished in glittering steel or bronze or black -- and buyers have noticed. Charles Ginnevar and Lyman Kipp are abstract artists whose forms and bright colors have wide appeal, as do Linda Howard's walk-through pieces.

Oddly, however, the biggest excitement in this show comes from a relative newcomer, young Frank McGuire from Houston, whose welded steel "objects" serve as stage sets -- a life-size folding chair, a telescope without a lens, a bus-stop diner -- that irresistibly lure viewers into participating and inventing their own scenarios. If you've got a penthouse terrace, don't miss the telescope in Middendorf/Lane's handsome new garden, behind the gallery at 2009 Columbia Rd. NW. The show continues through July 12.

Leonard Cave, one of Washington's most versitile wood sculptors, is showing his new "Slab" series at Hom Gallery, 2121 P St. NW. The work is made from slices of variously colored and textured marble, which he has glued together and then carved with the same bold, gestural cuts he uses in his powerful wood sculpture. Contrasts of smooth and rough surfaces are fully exploited; the best examples combine elegance with the timeless look of ancient steles. "Slab 4" is among the most fully realized of the works on view, while some others still seem experimental. The show continues through July 1.

At Osuna Gallery in the same building, New Yorker James Wolfe, who works in the Caro-Bennington tradition, is showing several open, linear pieces made of welded, seemingly scattered strips and rectangles of rusted steel. In this, his first Washington show, "East-West" is particularly bold as it swoops and curves into space, suggesting lines made of something considerably more dynamic and flexible than steel. The floor-pieces far surpass the rest. Through June.

Jane Haslem, also at 2121 P St. NW, seems to be swimming upstream in this sea of heavy abstraction, but Victor Colby's carved, painted wooden figures are totally captivating -- and, let's face it, a refreshing change. Colby teaches sculpture at Cornell, and the men in business suits who are his subjects -- "Man in a Striped Suit," or "Man of Property" -- aren't as innocently rendered as their folk-arty appearance would suggest. The fact is, these fellows, charming as they are, look like boy scouts grown up and homogenized by the executive treadmill. There's a wistfulness about this show that is irrestible. Through June.

Washington artists, increasingly, have been getting their act together. And the current manisfestation at Beverly Court Co-op Apartments, "The Artist's Invitational Museum," shows what artists can do when they take matters into their own hands. If you suspected, as some did, that this was just another bunch of second-rate stuff, be assured that you were all wrong. This show of 350 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs (and a few sculptures) by 170 area artists, will leave anyone impressed at the wealth of talent we have in this city: much of it either living in, or very familiar to the folks who reside in Beverly Court.

Of course there are some problems, like climbing up four flights of stairs to Apt. 409, where organizer Leslie Kuter is selling catalogues and orientating visitors.But it's worth it, for like cream, the best art seems to have risen to the top. The installation -- in hallways and apartments awaiting renovation -- leaves much to be desired, including readable labels. But works by Bob Stark, Mark Power, Bob Christenberry, Nade Haley, Rebecca Kamen, Annie Gawlak, Michael Platt, Kathy Crapster and Linda Swick more than repay the $1 admission.

Be forewarned that apartments like 303 -- full of good things by the 1734 Art Collective -- make you wish you lived there. And 306, with works by Percy Martin and a very special portrait, "Virgo at Home," by poet-painter Christopher Stickney, reminds those who missed it (including an errant critic) that his recent show at Felluss Gallery would have been well-worth seeing.

Apartment 108 Gay Glading's roost, is full of wonderful things, including a piece by Margarida Kendall; a Joe White drawing perfectly placed next to a window; photos by art-scene maven Paul Feinberg; and a work-in-process by Glading herself. She may end up selling you a Beverly Court T-shirt, but most visitors will probably want one anyhow. The show is on today and tomorrow, noon to 8 p.m. It should not be missed by new-talent hunters.