A FIRST ENCOUNTER with Robert Bourdon's new work at Osuna makes us think we've seen it all before: a chunk of a wrecked Checker Cab hanging from the wall or the fender of a crushed Ford transformed into sculpture. John Chamberlain has been doing it for years. They used to call it "junk" art.

But there's a twist in Bourdon's fool-the-eye sculptures: Though they have the look and luscious feel of painted metal, they are carved from wood. Smoothed to opulence and painted with automobile lacquers, the works are superbly crafted, the deception complete. This is super-realist painting carried into the third dimension, the latest in a long tradition of American trompe l'oeil art that goes back to Peto and Harnett.

But what then? Why go to all this trouble, one wonders, to create a mere display of virtuoso illusionism? After the first double take, where's the challenge--for the artist or the viewer? The artist seems to have asked himself that question right in the middle of this cycle of work, and a new complexity is the result. "Lot 406" is a good example; a free-standing piece with the side of a Gran Torino wagon emerging from a giant chunk of raw wood, it recalls the classic marbles depicting the mythological nymph Daphne, caught just as she was being transformed into a tree.

There are several of these more baroque, more traditionally sculptural works on view, in which the artist's hand and razzle-dazzle virtuosity are simultaneously visible, setting up a welcome tension between what's real and what isn't. The climax of the show, however, is a regal, iconic form titled "Auto Rex," which begins with the shape of an auto hood, but leaves literalness far behind. Bourdon's amazing show continues at Osuna through June 11 at 406 Seventh St. NW. Hours are 11 to 6, Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Marshall Borris' Sculptures

While upstairs Robert Bourdon is showing wood that looks like metal, downstairs--at Kornblatt Gallery--Baltimore's Marshall Borris is showing metal sculptures that look like crayon drawings on paper. Borris, whose giant, angled "Doorway" cut from diamond-plate steel stood on the Federal Reserve Board's lawn for the last year, is currently making smaller, painted works that vary that same basic format.

Each begins with a flat rectangle of steel, bent as you'd bend a piece of cardboard to make it stand up. Occasionally, a small rectangle is cut from the center, displaced slightly, and welded into place. These small, frontal slabs are then painted--usually with flat white automobile lacquer--and finally covered with short, energetic lines and squiggles made with colored chalk.

The result is a series of lighthearted, free-standing drawings made of steel--some more interesting than others. "Bee Bop," with its vigorous calligraphy, is the most fun. The show continues at 406 Seventh St. NW through June. Hours are 10 to 5:30, Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Larry Harden's Acrylics

Since he started as a drip painter a la Jackson Pollock, Washington abstract painter Larry Harden has taken long strides toward finding a style he can call his own. Though he is clearly still groping, Harden's new acrylics at Addison/Ripley Gallery have several satisfying aspects.

For one thing, he has gradually thickened and enriched his surfaces, sometimes with slabs of deliciously colored paint laid over a loose grid, sometimes with web-like overlays of color topped by a flurry of short, energetic strokes. "Untitled 2" is a work especially rich in the pinks, mauves and greens he handles so well; so are two thickly painted works on paper that number among the best examples in the show.

Good news: This Gonzaga High School art teacher will be included in a group show at the Corcoran next month. His show at Addison/Ripley, located at 9 Hillyer Ct. (in the alley behind the Phillips), continues through June 5. Hours are 10 to 5, Tuesdays through Saturdays.