JOHN FERGUSON'S recent sculptures at the Kornblatt Gallery are large, abstract, graceful pieces made out of plates of welded steel. A certain improbable elegance has characterized the work of this Baltimore artist over the past decade--he had his first solo exhibition here in 1973--but the new works are somehow more succinct than ever.

In part this has to do with the way the materials are handled: heavy steel arcs cut and joined in a way that emphasizes their gravity-defying feats. It also has to do with the simplicity of the forms: The new pieces are basically tripartite, with two wing-like forms that seem about to take flight, carrying their heavy, curved bases with them into the air.

The initial reading of these pieces as metaphors for birds about to fly or as winged victories does not rule out other possibilities. From different vantage points they may seem more like spiky cactuses or wind-blown capes or, in one case ("Untitled No. 3"), like the famous curvilinear masses of Le Corbusier's Ronchamp chapel. None of these readings is "correct," but each enriches appreciation of the wholeness and economy of the sculptural statement. Through the summer at 406 Seventh St. NW, open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Saturdays during July and August). Reidy's Drawings

Michael Reidy, a post-punk band leader of local renown, appears in his guise as a visual artist at the Olshonsky Gallery this month. Reidy's drawings in this show, his third solo exhibition, are of two types: montages combining history and fantasy, and female torsos derived from lingerie ads or catalogues.

What is especially valuable in Reidy's work is his inventive, impassioned, contradictory point of view, although he does not always have it under full control. He is a sort of naive sophisticate, an artist who sees a lot but does not want to lose the basic kernel of his strongest, most immediate responses to things and situations. The most complete expressions of this are two drawings affectionately featuring laboratory rats next to crossed-out picture postcards of Washington's monuments.

The figure drawings are classical cliche's recast in states of partial contemporary undress. If the messages of these works are obviously ironic, they also are ambivalent. The images can be seen simultaneously as sexy and demeaning--or as appealing and appalling, to rephrase Adlai Stevenson's 1950s witticism concerning St. Paul and Norman Vincent Peale. The drawings are made with a rather fussy, awkward pencil technique that even if intended is distracting.

Reidy's style in general leans heavily on the work of Rivers and Rauschenberg. Despite his intensity, humor and freshness, Reidy's complex point of view still awaits a richer expression. Through June 30 at 443 Seventh St. NW (second floor), open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Prints and Pottery

Though of different generations and artistic disciplines, painter-printmaker Will Peterson and potter Rob Barnard experienced parallel encounters with Japanese culture that set the tone of their artistic lives. Peterson was first introduced to Japan as a GI during the Korean war. He returned to become a translator of and a leading expert on Noh drama. Barnard first visited the Far East as a Marine during the Vietnam war. He returned as an apprentice to a famous Japanese ceramicist and to build a kiln in the Shigaraki valley--the valley of potters.

Despite this biographical coincidence the works of Peterson and Barnard, currently sharing space at the Anton Gallery, should be viewed separately for full effect.

Peterson, who returned to his native Chicago in the mid-1960s, is an inveterate combiner of impressions and images whose recent works contain diagrams for Noh performances, Noh texts in Japanese, renderings of classical statues, contemporary figures, abstract motifs and quotes from his own artistic past. The mix is provocative if not uniformly coherent. His best drawings, such as "Garden/Columbia/Kyoto," possess a dynamic energy and a surreal sort of elegance that owe something to both Western and Eastern sources.

Barnard, a native Kentuckian who returned to America in 1978 to establish a kiln and studio in Timberville, Va., is a purist who pursues pottery as a manifestation of the Zen spirit. The utilitarian pieces in this show--plates, bowls, pitchers, vases--were produced in a recent oak wood firing. Their earth textures and ash glazes are the result of controlled accidents in the kiln. They are strong, dramatic and--despite their roughness--elegant.

Both shows are on through Sunday at 415 East Capitol St., from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.