"DENSE PACK" has come to Alexandria. Playing off a design bent on saving (or destroying) the world with MX missiles, sculptor William Walker Wood has created a phalanx of 32 glittering aluminum discs that stand on the banks of the Potomac at the foot of Cameron Street in Old Town. They peacefully caress passersby with reflected sunbeams.

"I didn't like it at first, but I've changed my mind," said one wind-whipped citizen as he stood, chin up, eyes closed, soaking up the warming rays.

"Dense Pack" is one of the more interesting of 80 works at indoor and outdoor sites around Old Town, all part of the first Alexandria Sculpture Festival.

Selected from 173 entrants by critic and lecturer David Tannous, Corcoran curator Clair List and Benjamin Forgey, architecture critic for The Washington Post,, the show reasserts the wealth of sculptural talent in the Washington area.

But why do so few of the works take advantage of the magnificent sites on the Alexandria waterfront?

Wood-sculptor Leonard Cave makes an impact (and won the $750 second prize) in Waterfront Park at the foot of Prince Street with a handsome, sprawling piece made from cedar logs that are chiseled, incised and bolted together. Nade Haley will begin a truly site-related waterfront installation next week in Oronoco Bay Park, behind the new United Way Building at Oronoco and Union streets.

But some of the other outdoor works are abstract metal sculptures that could just as well have been shown inside. They fail to seize the splendid opportunities offered by the newly reclaimed parks near the Torpedo Factory, which reopens in May after renovations.

Indoors, the focal point of the festival is the Athenaeum, 201 Prince St., where solid, if unsurprising, works by Genna Watson (winner of the $1,000 first prize), Hilda Thorpe, Joan Danziger, and Rebecca Kamen (with the delightful "Table with Yellow Triangle") are on view.

But newer artists are the stars of this show. Their work hints at a trend toward a primal look.

Jane Ware's "Les Pelles" looks like ancient tribal spears and shovels of bronze and wood. Yuriko Yamaguchi has invented primitive-looking artifacts. Jeff Spaulding's haunting "Doppelganger" recalls a pair of tusks or fetish-sticks. Ymelda Martinez-Allison's piece echos primeval architecture in miniature. William Bennett's stone ship seems to sail out of the past--on real water.

Alan Stone, another primalist, won the $500 third prize with a piece from his "Dwelling Series," on view at another indoor site--the offices of the architectural firm of VVKR, at 901 N. Pitt St. Also on view there are works by John Dickson, Janos Enyedi and John Van Alstine.

The Sculpture Festival, supported by the City of Alexandria to the tune of $10,000, also encompasses a small show at The Lyceum, 201 S. Washington St. Festivities continue through May 2. With luck, the festival planned for next year will attract bolder work. Maps showing the various sites are available at The Lyceum, VVKR offices and the Athenaeum, which is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. The Athenaeum show closes April 30. Maxine Cable at Gallery 10 -

Death seems to triumph over life in Maxine Cable's eerie show at Gallery 10, at 1519 Connecticut Ave. NW.

Her framed assemblages and large, shrine-like installatiions are made from pieces of dead things--burnt wood, bleached bones, dark crab shells, ragged feathers. If there's a witch's coven out there looking for a place to meet, this is it.

The problem here is overcrowding and lack of editing--a disease that is spreading in local galleries. There are far too many redundant "White Webs," and far too many installations to step over--or trip over--to get to the next room.

But there are also powerful works in this show: "Self-Portrait V," a bookcase topped by a dusty doctor's bag and filled with bones and X-rays of the artist's head, conjures the terror of major surgery that the artist confronted six years ago; and "Black Web 1" is the most finished piece. In it, black paper and sand crab shells give crushed gray velvet the look of bat-hides.

Blessed color paint finally enters (and the tacky textiles finally depart) in the newest "Shrines," which are the most expressive works Cable has produced to date. Hours are 11 to 5, through Saturday.