Viewers could not ask for an art season more varied than the one that's now commencing at local art museums. Art from Africa and Asia, the Great Plains of America, the Italy of the Renaissance, the France of the Impressionists, and sculptures of all sorts -- and some forgeries as well -- will be among the things displayed.

One reason for this exceptional diversity is that three institutions have been added to the mix. The National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (of Asian and Near Eastern art) will open to the public in their new homes on the Mall on Sept. 28. And the National Museum of Women in the Arts will begin its first fall season -- with a survey of the photographs of Louise Dahl-Wolfe -- on Sept. 22.

That museum may contend that mainstream art museums ignore women artists, but quite a number will have shows here in the months to come. The Berthe Morisot exhibition is already on display (through Nov. 29) at the National Gallery of Art, and a grand Georgia O'Keeffe show will open there Nov. 1 (through Feb. 21). Faith Ringgold's story quilts will go on exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art on Nov. 17 (through Feb. 28). Pat Steir's drawings will be shown there starting Dec. 15 (through Feb. 14), as will those of Susan Rothenberg (Feb. 23-April 24). Joan Mitchell's retrospective will open Feb. 27 (through May 1) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

This fall's exhibitions will also offer explorations of colonial America, 19th-century Long Island and contemporary Manhattan. Recent Latin American art will be investigated, too. "Puerto Rican Painting: Between Past and Present" is already on display at the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America (through Sept. 25), and an enormous exhibition, "Hispanic Art in the United States: Thirty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors," will go on view Oct. 10 (through Jan. 10) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Another American people whose contemporary art has often been overlooked will also have a major exhibition: "Lost and Found Traditions: Native American Art 1965-1985" will open at the Renwick Gallery on Oct. 2 (through March 6).

Such exceptionally skilled artists as Lucian Freud, the English portraitist, Chicago's Roger Brown, the conceptualist Sol LeWitt and sculptor Joel Shapiro will be given local shows. And there will be an unusual amount of recent sculpture on display. "A Century of Modern Sculpture: The Patsy and Raymond Nasher Collection" already is on view in the National Gallery's East Building (through Jan. 3), much work in three dimensions will be seen in both the Indian and Hispanic shows, and "A Quiet Revolution: British Sculpture since 1965" will open at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Nov. 10 (through Jan. 10).

"War and Memory: In the Aftermath of Vietnam," the most ambitious project ever organized by the Washington Project for the Arts, will begin its three-month run Sept. 17. Nearly 100 artists -- musicians, painters, sculptors, filmmakers and poets -- will participate, and a 448-page volume, "Unwinding the Vietnam War: From War Into Peace," will be published to accompany their performances and shows.

The Phillips Collection has mounted a display of the John Marins in its permanent collection (through Oct. 11); "William Merritt Chase: Summers at Shinnecock 1891-1902," is at the National Gallery (through Nov. 29); and an exhibition of the drawings, prints and decorative arts of Rosso Fiorentino, the 16th-century mannerist who worked in Rome and Florence, will go on view at that museum on Oct. 25 (through Jan. 3). "Two Centuries of Lithography" will remain at the Baltimore Museum (through Nov. 8).

One might call these mainstream shows. But other exhibitions of a less familiar sort -- dealing with such subjects as mutilated manuscripts, photographs of dogs and the history of fakes -- will also be displayed: "The Dog Observed: Photographs 1844-1983," which offers 75 images by such renowned photographers as Avedon, Kerte'sz, Mapaplethorpe and Van Der Zee is at the Baltimore Museum (through Sept. 27). Also in Baltimore, two less encouraging displays have opened at the Walters Art Gallery: They are "Enemies of the Book: The Mutilation of Manuscripts" (through Nov. 15) and "Artful Deception: The Craft of the Forger" (through Oct. 31).

Two photography exhibits have opened at the Corcoran. One presents the recent work of Britain's Richard Pare (through Oct. 4). The other, which continues that museum's Spectrum series, is an international group show picked by Washington's John Gossage and devoted to what he discerns as the "Future of Photography" (through Dec. 13).

Here's a listing of a number of museum exhibitions still to come:

SEPTEMBER: "Lucian Freud," a retrospective of the Englishman's extraordinary portraits, opens at the Hirshhorn (Sept. 17-Nov. 29). "War and Memory: In the Aftermath of Vietnam" opens at the Washington Project for the Arts (Sept. 17-Dec. 19). "American Traditions in Watercolor: The Worcester Art Museum Collection," a show of 75 sheets, including eight by John Singer Sargent and 19 by Winslow Homer, will open at the National Museum of American Art Sept. 17.

"Bentwood and Metal Furniture: 1850-1946," a show of 119 objects by such designers as Thonet, Hoffmann, Rietveld, Alto, Breuer and Mies van der Rohe, opens Sept. 20 at the Baltimore Museum of Art. "Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Retrospective Exhibition," at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, includes documentary pictures taken in the South during the 1930s, fashion shots commissioned by Harper's Bazaar and Vogue in the '40s and the '50s, and portraits of such figures as Orson Welles, Noguchi and Colette, all by the 91-year-old photographer (Sept. 22-Nov. 23). A show of artists' books, drawn from the museum's collection, will also go on view on Sept. 22 in its new library. "Zurbara'n," the first retrospective devoted to the paintings of the Spanish master Francisco de Zurbara'n (1598-1664), will open in Manhattan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Sept. 22-Dec. 13).

On Sept. 28, the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, both offering a number of inaugural exhibitions, will open simultaneously at the Smithsonian Institution's Quadrangle on the Mall. There will be five shows at the Sackler -- "In Praise of Ancestors: Ritual Objects from China," "Pavilions and Immortal Mountains: Chinese Decorative Arts and Paintings," "Monsters, Myths and Minerals," "Nomads and Nobility: Art of the Ancient Near East" and a selection of the new museum's Asian sculptures and paintings. There will be five additional exhibits at the African Museum -- "African Art in the Cycle of Life," "Patterns of Life: West African Strip-Weaving Traditions," "Objects of Use," "Royal Benin Art" and a show of selected objects from the permanent collection.

OCTOBER: "Sea and Shore: Selections from the Permanent Collection," an exhibit of seascapes, opens at the Hirshhorn (Oct. 1-April 3). "Lost and Found Traditions: Native American Art 1965-1985," an enormous show of recent work including tepees and canoes, will open at the Renwick (Oct. 2-March 6). "Drawing Now: Sol LeWitt and Robert Mangold," a show of recent large-scale drawings by those two New Yorkers, will inaugurate a series of contemporary drawing shows at the Baltimore Museum (Oct. 6-Dec. 6). "Leland Rice: Photographs of the Berlin Wall" will go on view at the Baltimore Museum (Oct. 6-Nov. 29).

"American Colonial Portraits: 1770-1776," a show of more than 100 objects that commemorates the bicentennial of the Constitution, will open at the National Portrait Gallery. John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale and Benjamin West will be among the painters represented (Oct. 9-Jan. 10). "Hispanic Art in the United States: Thirty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors," a touring exhibition of some 180 objects selected by the Corcoran's Jane Livingston and adjunct curator John Beardsley, will open at the Corcoran (Oct. 10-Jan. 17).

"Frank Stella 1970-1987," a large exhibition culminating in the freely painted metal reliefs of the most adventurous of America's abstract artists, will open in New York at the Museum of Modern Art (Oct. 12-Jan. 5). "Charles Demuth," a 120-picture retrospective devoted to the early 20th-century precisionist, who was also one of the most sensitive watercolorists of his period, will open in Manhattan at the Whitney Museum of American Art (Oct. 15-Jan. 17). "American Masters: Works on Paper from the Corcoran Gallery of Art," a show of works by Copley, Cole, Sargent, Demuth and other well-known painters, will open at the Corcoran (Oct. 17-Dec. 6).

"Bill Jensen," a show of the abstractions of the Minnesota-born New Yorker, opens at the Phillips Collection (Oct. 24-Dec. 13). "Rosso Fiorentino: Drawings, Prints and Decorative Arts," a survey of the works of the 16th-century Italian mannerist, will open at the National Gallery (Oct. 25-Jan. 3).

NOVEMBER: "Georgia O'Keeffe: 1887-1986," a traveling retrospective of some 100 rarely seen oils, watercolors, pastels and drawings, assembled to mark the centennial of the painter's birth, will open in the National Gallery's East Building (Nov. 1-Feb. 21). "Julian Schnabel," a show of paintings made between 1975 and 1987 by the much discussed New York art star, opens in New York at the Whitney (Nov. 6-Jan. 10). "A Quiet Revolution: British Sculpture Since 1965" opens at the Hirshhorn (Nov. 10-Jan. 10). "Cynthia Schira: New Work," a show of fiber art, some of it made on a computerized loom, will open at the Renwick (Nov. 13-Feb. 14).

"An American Sampler: Folk Art from the Shelburne Museum," a show of approximately 125 quilts, coverlets, weather vanes, whirligigs, carousel animals and other objects from the Vermont museum, will open at the National Gallery (Nov. 15-April 3). "Faith Ringgold: Story Quilts" opens at the the Baltimore Museum (Nov. 17-Feb. 28). "Picasso Linoleum Cuts: The Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kramer Collection from the Metropolitan Museum of Art," a touring exhibition, opens at the Baltimore Museum (Nov. 24-Jan. 3).

DECEMBER: "Supreme Instants: The Photography of Edward Weston," a retrospective of 230 images by the American master, opens at the National Museum of American Art (Dec. 1-Jan. 31). "Directions," the latest in a series, this one focusing on New Yorkers Sol LeWitt and Joel Shapiro, opens at the Hirshhorn (Dec. 2-Feb. 28). "Anselm Kiefer," the first retrospective devoted to the contemporary German painter, opens in Chicago at the Art Institute (Dec. 5-Jan. 31). "Ralston Crawford/Todd Webb: Photographs" goes on view at the Baltimore Museum (Dec. 8-Jan. 31).

"Drawing Now: Pat Steir" opens at the Baltimore Museum (Dec. 15-Feb. 14). "Julia Margaret Cameron," a show of portrait photographs by the pioneering Englishwoman, opens at the National Portrait Gallery (Dec. 18-Feb. 14).

"Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel: Master of the French Picture Book," a show of 120 pictures by the late-19th-century illustrator of children's books, opens at the Corcoran (Dec. 19-Jan. 31). "Irish Women Artists," a show of some 100 objects dating from the 18th century to the present, opens at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (Dec. 24-Feb. 28).