Chances are, no matter what the prevailing aesthetic philosophy, the female nude will never be out of fashion. She may show up disguised in various ways, or used as a metaphor for ideas political, mythic or psychological. But she's always there, archetypal, a constant source of fascination for both men and women artists.

With her one-woman show of untitled drawings and paintings at the David Adamson Gallery, New Jersey-based artist Nancy Depew reasserts the timeless appeal of the female nude -- not as symbol or metaphor, but simply as form and physical presence. There's no ulterior motive, political or otherwise, in these images. Her richly worked charcoal and white chalk highlighted drawings, in particular, communicate her sheer delight in rendering every curve, every sinew and muscled shadow of her subjects. And while some of the poses are a bit dramatically forced, by and large these starkly chiaroscuro nudes are riveting, and project a subtle mix of physical self-awareness and underlying eroticism. But then, eroticism is inherent in the subject.

Depew's moody interiors lend the nudes poignancy. Posed in large, shadowy rooms with single items of furniture such as chairs, clutching curtains or reclining on sofas, these women are in most respects rendered in the grand tradition of salon figure drawing everywhere. Yet, due to this artist's vigorous style and willingness to distort anatomy occasionally to achieve heightened movement and tension, they're a far cry from your typical student studies.

Depew's oil painting technique is strongly reminiscent of that of area artists Manon Cleary or Rebecca Davenport. But, with one or two exceptions, her taut and rigorous drawing style doesn't translate well into the more polished blendings and smoothnesses of the color medium. One finds oneself searching for the hard edge defining the ropy vein in a hand, or the sensitive secondary line that adds dimension and depth to a backbone. Still, it's a must-see exhibit.

Science & Art at Strathmore

At the Strathmore Hall Arts Center in Rockville, a thought-provoking show titled "Metaphoric Structures: Science, Symbols & Matter" examines the resurgence of shared -- albeit differently expressed -- views of the physical world between scientists and contemporary artists.

While many art aficionados may be familiar with sculptor Kenneth Snelson's collaborations with various physicists and engineers (and several of his computer-generated prints are included in the exhibit), they may not be aware of the extent to which the current investigations of astronomers and cosmologists have been influencing a growing number of area artists of all disciplines.

The artists assembled here, both local and European, would be far more likely to turn in at night with a volume of Joseph Campbell than the critical essays of Clement Greenberg. Some have been pursuing a physics-inspired line of inquiry for quite some time, painters Robin Rose, Andrea Way, Carol Goldberg, Mokha Laget (who curated the show) and Simon Gouverneur among them. Others, such as sculptor Clyde Lynds, whose concrete "Steles" laced with pinpoint glowing fiber-optic glass are eerily beautiful, and Bulgarian artist Nissim Merkado, whose conceptual landscape video "Bio-Acoustic Garden" is exhibited, are a bit harder to place. Their work would seem to be more closely connected with the terrestrial, organic preoccupations of the late Robert Smithson, whose giant landfill piece "Spiral Jetty" in Great Salt Lake kicked off a whole movement of outdoor site works in the late '60s.

Caroline Orner's simple but monolithic encaustic and oil wall pieces have come a long way in the past 10 years in sensitivity and subtle color combination. The video documenting the creation of French sculptor Ernest Pignon-Ernest's site-specific "bio-sculptures" of tree people formed of polyurethane and organic micro-algae is intriguing, and, as usual, Way's intricate fields of pattern coax delighted contemplation.

Sculpture at Washington Square

The latest exhibition of sculpture in the ongoing Washington Square Art Exhibitions Program is a curious compendium of the very good and the barely mediocre. Consisting of selected works by William Bennett, Maria Eugenia Bigott, Ted Hirsch, Ray King, Aaron Levine and Joseph Mannino, it seems curated with a kind of yard-sale mentality, with no particular focus or sensitivity to the very different concerns of the artists.

It appears the height of insensitivity, for example, to place the archaic-looking, intentionally clumsy coarse wood sculptures of Hirsch in proximity to the awesomely patient and meticulous stone, glass and copper futuristic structures of Bennett. There is more visual similarity, functional and aesthetic purpose between a jellyfish and a house cat than between the work of these two sculptors. Throw in some disappointingly department store window mannequin-like examples of Bigott's normally provocative wood and bronze sculptures, and you wind up with a very curious menagerie indeed.

There are, however, some really excellent pieces here, if you can manage to ignore the distracting juxtapositions. Bennett's highly original pieces -- some of which have taken literally years to complete -- are perhaps the most rewarding. But there are several nice marble carvings by Levine, and Mannino's giant glazed ceramic and colored mortar assemblage sculptures of fists and pointing fingers exert a kind of primal attraction. There are, too, some works that are notable for their uncompromising ugliness. Leading this category are the big stained glass screen and two glowing green, deco-influenced, pseudo-architectural glass and stone "Urns" by King.