A massive Paul Gauguin retrospective will open at the National Gallery of Art in May, and it will be "definitive" if during this summit climate of cooperation the Soviets agree to lend 10 to 12 major Gauguin works, National Gallery Director J. Carter Brown said yesterday in New York. Brown spoke at a luncheon at Manhattan's trendy Le Cirque restaurant, where he said that discussions with the Soviets have been friendly but that he'll feel better with a signed piece of paper establishing the loan.

He described the 230-piece exhibit as the most inclusive Gauguin show since 1906 Paris retrospective three years after the artist's death. The full range of Gauguin's work will be on view, including sculpture, ceramics, drawings and graphics as well as paintings from Europe, Asia, Polynesia, Australia and North and South America. At the luncheon, actor Donald Sutherland, who played Gauguin in a recent movie about the troubled artist, "Wolf at the Door," read from some of the artist's letters expressing his loneliness and desperation. The exhibit will run through July at the National Gallery before going to the Art Institute of Chicago and then to the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris in January 1989.

Out and About

Former first child Amy Carter will not be returning to Brown University, and when she does decide to continue her education it will probably be at a Southern college. The 20-year-old daughter of former president Jimmy Carter said yesterday that she has been living in Providence, R.I., and working in Boston since being suspended by Brown last summer for neglecting her studies in favor of political activities. She denied reports she had been expelled or dismissed from the university. There should be fewer temptations to get involved in political or CIA recruitment protests at most Southern universities ...

All six Democratic contenders showed up for the Kennedy Center debates with their wives, and at least four of the wives will be on hand Friday at the annual Christmas luncheon on Capitol Hill given by the Democratic Wives Forum. Betty Wright, the wife of House Speaker Jim Wright, will introduce the wives, who will speak briefly but will not debate. Those who have said they will attend are Kitty Dukakis, Hattie Babbitt, Jane Gephardt and Tipper Gore. Jacqueline Jackson might also attend, but Jeanne Simon will be in Texas campaigning ...

For syndicated columnist Art Buchwald, Tuesday's candidates' debate was not merely a question of who won or lost. He looked at the debate with a selfish eye -- who can do the most for his column? "It was the Republicans hands down. I saw columns in any of the Republican candidates," he said, "but I didn't see one among the Democrats" ...

There are still some Democrats who think that New York Gov. Mario Cuomo will soon come forward and save the party by running for president. In Albany this week, reporters interviewing the governor made a reference to cartoonist Garry Trudeau's recent "Doonesbury" takeoff on the Samuel Beckett play, "Waiting for Godot." In referring to the cartoon spoof "Waiting for Mario," Cuomo said, "That's the point. Godot never appeared. So if someone suggested 'Waiting for Godot' as an analogy, that someone is convinced I've been telling the truth since 1984. And I'm grateful for it" ...