Master box artist Joseph Cornell may well have inspired more art than any sculptor in history, especially if you count creative kindergarten projects.

For one thing, aside from the esthetic delights of his work, he solved the problem of what to do with the hoard of seashells, feathers and other doodads people lack the heart to throw away.

For another, things in boxes (from relics to birthday presents) give off an aura of mystery and surprise whether the contents warrant it or not. Artists who make assemblages in little boxes start out with the guarantee of a curious audience.

"Boxes, Boxes, Boxes" at Gallery K, the latest local manifestation of boxed art, represents 14 artists currently working in the genre, starting with a modest but rare "Red Sand Box" by Cornell himself (purchased by gallery owner Marc Moyens years ago) and spiraling downward to embrace items with a homemade, recently cleaned-out-basement look.

In between, Andrew Krieger's meticulously drawn little rooms alternate between leaving you cold and conveying the sense of a significant drama under way, notably in "Word Has Come," which centers on a tiny letter slipped under a door. Narrative also propels the work of Peggy Shield, who makes a notable statement about human nature in a piece in which spectators watch and do nothing while a woman hangs by her wrists. Alan Weatherley, in an homage to the Dada artist Andre' Breton, and James Symons in his pop-religious work titled "St. Sebastian," give us some of the best-crafted works in the show.

Steven K. Robert's pop-up self-portrait is amusing. Maureen McCabe's overstuffed boxes full of her usual accumulations of feathers and lace are merely claustrophobic.

Also on view are the strange, surrealistic diagrams for impossible machines (all made from skeletons and cameras and human organs numbered for assembly) by French artist Christian Jardin.

Gallery K is at 2032 P St. NW. Today is the last day of the show. It closes at 6. Sharron Antholt at Gallery 10

Years of living in India and Nepal have provided Washington painter Sharron Antholt with an ongoing challenge: to conjure the visual and spiritual essence of that part of the world without using traditional means. Her show at Gallery 10, 1519 Connecticut Ave. NW, finds her well on her way.

Using large sheets of handmade Tibetan paper laminated with gummy Rhoplex, Antholt centers each of her textured surfaces with a single, minimal image--usually an arched doorway opening to infinity. Unstretched, unframed and surrounded with decorative borders in the earthy ochres and reds of Tibet, the best of these works take on the aura of old, meditative wall hangings.

But it is the notion of the endless search for inner life and understanding--the heart of much Eastern belief--that Antholt wants to get across, and she has built a chapel-like, three-dimensional version of one of her paintings to do it. Too rough around the edges to make its point, the installation nonetheless shows an admirable desire to push on. Then again, some of the most affecting pieces in this show are the simplest ones, painted only in black and white. The show is accompanied by a background of electronic music. It continues through March 26; hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 5. Paintings by Dempsey

After an illness, veteran Washington painter Richard Dempsey is back at his easel, exploring various media. The large paintings that dominate the current show at Franz Bader are semiabstract figures and snakelike forms that writhe across the canvas. They burst with pent-up energy. Though titles suggest a wide range of subject matter (from "My Madonna and Me" to "Don't Step on the Bongo"), these mixed-media works seem, in fact, to be about only one thing: the artist's personal catharsis. Taken together, they are too highly charged, too personal to decode. Dempsey's customary wit and warmth are lost in the visual imbroglio. More ordered and much easier to look at are the black ink drawings on acetate, which put to better use Dempsey's gift for evoking a sense of place, from the vibrancy of Jamaica to the tranquility of Cape Cod. The show continues through March 26, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 to 6.