After the laser, digital and voice-activated electronic gizmos lose their charm, there's always art near the Convention Center. It's an easy walk to any of the following galleries, or take Metro to Gallery Place. And move on from there: The neighborhood may look bleak, but it holds a surprising number of treats for folks with a yen for adventure. NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY -- The "Hollywood Portrait Photographers" show of famous faces continues through March 20. The studios cast Garbo, Dietrich, Hepburn, Gable, Cagney, Grant and the rest as idealized visions of glamour. Of course they're larger than life and too perfect, but we continue our collusion with the camera, preserving them that way.
Time magazine portrait-covers feature more recent VIPs, and the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection of Mathew Brady glass-plate negatives includes the famous (cracked) Lincoln portrait, the last before his assassination. Upstairs, Gilbert Stuart's portraits of George and Martha Washington are in good company with a dense pack of other statesmen. At Eighth and F streets, daily, 10 to 5:30. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART -- Adjoining the NPG, the NMAA focuses on little-known artists or gives strange twists to established ones. The current Joseph Cornell show is an example: 50 of the artist's works are accompanied by 165 source materials. Rather than settle for a display of his famous boxes, the exhibit attempts to explain their derivation. (It closes February 27.)
The classical influences on American architecture are explored through drawings, photos, models and mock-ups, through March. A hundred portraits, landscapes and drawings by expatriate painter Elizabeth Nourse are on view through April 17. Louis Lozowick's lithographic studies of workers and industrial structures in the '20s and '30s remain through April 10. And Elihu Vedder's drawings for the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam will be displayed indefinitely.
The permanent collection includes James Hampton's "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millenium General Assembly," a roomful of 180 glittering objects on the third floor, created in Hampton's garage not too many blocks away. At Eighth and G streets NW, daily, 10 to 5:30. MICKELSON GALLERY -- Across the street, the current show is "Five Printmakers/Baltimore," 35 original etchings, linocuts and lithographs in very small editions. At 707 G Street NW. Open weekdays, 9:30 to 5; Saturday until 3. Closed Sunday. SEVENTH STREET -- Also in the neighborhood, Seventh Street houses a number of the city's most active galleries. At 406 Seventh Street NW, JANE HASLEM offers a "Valentine Party and Art Auction," Saturday, 1 to 5, and "Dealer's Choice" paintings through February; B.R. KORNBLATT shows new paintings and sculptures by Michael Todd through February 23; LUNN exhibits "Stieglitz: Editor and Publisher" through March 26; MIDDENDORF/LANE shows paintings by Michael McCall and Catherine Raymond. On Saturday, OSUNA opens "Southern Landscapes" by Fred Nichols and "Steel in Balance, New Sculptures" by Edward Hendricks, through March 11.
At 400 Seventh Street NW, WASHINGTON PROJECT FOR THE ARTS offers Martha Jackson Jarvis' raku and sand installation, opening Friday, plus Bill Kane's photo-neon works, Milton Komisar's computerized light sculpture in the atrium, and "Options '83," 30 emerging artists from the Washington area, through March 5. OLSHONSKY, at 443 Seventh, currently features works by Anne Doran and Samantha Peterson; SLAVIN, at 404, has a winter group exhibition of Bill Shanhouse, James Dobkin, Judy Greenberg, Antero Kare and Oscar Chelimsky; STUDIO, at 420, shows photography and paper works by Linda Morrell and Ingrid Cromel Rehert, respectively; GALERIE FRANCOIS, a newcomer at 430, offers drawings, sculpture, stain paintings, linocuts and intaglio. At 418 Seventh Street, WASHINGTON WOMEN'S ARTS CENTER's "Backgrounds" show has multi-media works by 15 artists of different American regional backgrounds, at the Lansburgh's Cultural Center (which also has changing window displays).
Aside from art, there are plenty of things to amuse you within striking distance of the Convention Center. You can, for instance, ice skate at the PERSHING PARK RINK at 15th & Pennsylvania NW, or check out WESTERN PLAZA right next door. Built under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, the plaza boasts a 280-foot by 90-foot rendition, in marble and granite, of Pierre L'Enfant's plan for the city of Washington. The whimsical plaza, replete with bird's-eye views in granite of the White House and Capitol Dome, also sports quotes by patriots from Thomas Jefferson to John Kennedy.
Nearby, at 1427 F Street NW, there's the OLD EBBITT GRILL, a tavern which has operated since 1856. Presidents Grant, McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt are said to have hoisted a few there. Speaking of presidents, there's also FORD'S THEATER, at 511 10th Street NW. The Ford's Museum in the basement has relics and artifacts from Lincoln's fateful evening out. Across the street, at 516 10th Street NW, is WILLIAM PETERSON'S BOARDING HOUSE, where the president expired from a gunshot wound.
Then, of course, there's CHINATOWN, mainly described by H street from Fifth to Ninth streets NW, which is brimming with restaurants, curio shops and other like delights. If you wander by this Sunday afternoon, you'll happen on a grand celebration of Chinese New Year, this being the Year of the Boar. If you feel like shopping, or even browsing, there's Woodward & Lothrop, Hecht's, Garfinckel's and a host of other outfits lining F street.
As for nightlife, the WARNER THEATER has a hit revival of "Children of a Lesser God," and at the CHURCH OF THE EPIPHANY, 13th and G streets NW, there's Woolly Mammoth Theater Company's production of N.F. Simpson's satire, "Was He Anyone?" At the 9:30 CLUB, 930 F Street NW, you can take your choice of everything from Mekanik Destruktiw Komandoh, a group from West Berlin playing Friday night, to Switchblade, playing Saturday, to the UK Subs, playing two shows on Sunday.