"Spanish Art Tomorrow" -- the Corcoran's exhibit of new Spanish painting which was opened here last night by King Carlos and Queen Sofia -- whets the viewer's appetite for "Spanish Art the Day After Tomorrow." Spain's emergence from dictatorship, apparent in these pictures, still has a way to go.

The 40 works on display remind one of a prisoner who, blinded by the sun after years in darkness, feels the need to grope for a secure foothold. Most of the 16 young artists represented are still a bit too cautious. They seem unsure of their new freedom. They still explore familiar fads (Formalism, Photo Realism, punk), or borrow from their betters (Miro, R.B. Kitaj, Matisse or Bonnard). They will, but have not yet, struck out on their own.

There are a few exceptions -- the strangely muffled figures floating in the pictures of Miguel Yban ez are admirably ambiguous, and the pleasing, airy landscapes made by Rosa Torres, although not profound, are boldly brushed and bright -- but one walks among these pictures yearning for the tonic of the fresh, the wholly personal. Dull obedience to the rules, rules that might as well be broken, sits heavy on this show.

Robert Ortun o, for example, while he borrows Vuillard's themes, imitates Bonnard; Rafael Baxieras makes enlargements of small passages he has borrowed from Matisse; Antonio Posada is comparably loyal to the laws of Punk, and Jose' Maria Cuasante, the Photo Realist represented, is still content to paint the same old streets and shiny cars.

This show may be derivative, but because it's full of promise it is not at all distressing. These pictures aren't ill-made; the drawing here is skillful, the colors nicely tuned. Spanish art often has magically combined the witty and the somber (think of Goya and Picasso); Spain has nourished mighty masters (Zurbara'n, Vela'zquez and El Greco), and once she overcomes her heartfelt, long-delayed flirtation with the modern she may produce grand art again. "Spanish Art Tomorrow," a truncated version of a larger exhibition sponsored by the U.S.-Spanish Joint Committee for Educational and Cultural Affairs, closes Nov. 15.