Denizens of the art world here are bound to be curious by now about the tastes and predilections of Ned Rifkin, the Corcoran's new curator of contemporary art. For the first time since his arrival last fall from New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art, the range of his interests has surfaced here in two shows: the stunning Leon Golub retrospective opening today at the Corcoran (originally organized for the New Museum), and "Recent American Works on Paper," a national exhibition juried by Rifkin for the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service and now on view at the Arlington Arts Center.

If the Golub show (to be reviewed separately) has more cosmic implications, it is the more modest show in Arlington that says more about Rifkin's attitude toward emerging art and artists -- a major part of his job. It will come as good news -- or should -- that as reflected in these 53 works on paper by 41 artists from 21 states (selected from 1,000 submitted slides and 100 original works), Rifkin appears to be a man of open mind with no particular stylistic ax to grind. But he clearly welcomes intellectual and/or emotional engagement wherever he can find it, and art with content -- or art that has something to say -- dominates this show. Quality is generally high, despite a few very strange lapses, most of them involving area artists. Perhaps they can be attributed to a certain generosity of spirit -- not a bad quality, after all, for a curator with star-making power.

The show includes a wide range of media -- including drawings, prints and collages -- and a broad spectrum of styles, from the traditional still-life drawing of green peppers on a table by Rob Evans to an expressive minimal abstraction titled "Energy of Longing" by David Cook of Virginia. In between, reflecting the tenor of the times, are strong Neo-Expressionist drawings with implied narratives, notably by Mary Holland and Patricia Fennell, who deal respectively -- and effectively -- with the subjects of fear and emotional isolation. There is also wit, especially in a devotional drawing by Kathy Yancey showing a woman slicing tomatoes on what appears to be the high altar of her kitchen. It is endearingly titled "The Tomatoes for This Dish Must Be Without Blemish," and they are.

Because it includes talent from all over the country, and has been carefully culled by knowing eyes, this show affords a rare opportunity for beginning collectors to examine and acquire art that comes, for the most part, at very modest prices. Organized jointly by the Arlington Arts Center and the Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, the show, which has an illustrated catalogue, will be circulated nationwide after it closes on July 27. The Arlington Arts Center is located near the Virginia Square Metro station at 3550 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 5. Furniture at Fendrick Gallery --

Need a "Waiting Chair" with a lamp attached? Or a piano bench that simulates a keyboard -- and moves when you sit on it?

Chances are you don't, but you're likely to want them after seeing "Handmade Furniture/Sculptural Forms" at Fendrick Gallery. It officially welcomes back an era of elegant, imaginative and sometimes wacky handmade furniture after decades of spare, purely functional knockdowns.

Meticulously fashioned from exotic woods, this sensuous, sculptural furniture includes tall, slim cabinets on legs, end tables, a fragile lacquered swallowtail desk, a funky chess table and a "Temple Box" that harbors nothing more than a secret drawer. All are the work of 20 artists who are students, faculty or alumni of the Wendell Castle workshop in Scottsville, N.Y., founded in 1980 to train artist-woodworkers interested in making unique art furniture. Castle, America's best-known artist/furniture-maker, is widely admired for his virtuoso craftsmanship and fool-the-eye tables and chairs, which are represented in leading museum collections.

If none of these artists yet has Castle's virtuosic range, all are master craftsmen who have learned enough about beautiful woods, satin finishes, and dovetailing to hold their own. Several works have outright Art Deco allusions, such as a lamp fashioned of rare woods and mirrors. But it is craftsmanship that always has the last word, as in Charles Swanson's luscious cabinet on legs made from pale curly maple with black pinstripes.

Some are fun, some funky, others magnificent or magical, such as "Cupid's Alchemy Chest," made from lacquered hardwood and purpleheart. Don't hesitate to ask for a gallery aide to show you around. Otherwise, the "do not touch" signs will keep you from experiencing the sensuous aspect of this very sensuous show, which will continue through Sept. 2 at 3059 M St. NW.

The gallery is closed Saturdays for the summer, but is open Mondays through Fridays, 9:30 to 5:30.