Washington has an outdoor art exhibit of light and color scattered throughout "old" downtown, cheering up the grim, gray architectural drabness.

"Neon Fronts: Luminious Art for the Urban Landscape," is an electronic smorgasbord of neon color -- from garish, Vegas-inspired reds and blues to pastels of almost watercolor delicacy.

The 13 works that comprise the exhibit appear in some distinctly unmuseum-like places: on walls fronting parking lots, in windows of abandoned buildings, and sandwiched between other neon works with titles like "Central Liquors" and "Adult Theatre."

Olivia Georgia, curator of the exhibit which was put together under the auspices of the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA), says public reaction has been wonderful.

Some pieces are easier to accept as fine art than others. A small group of neon-viewers on the corner of Seventh Street NW tried to discern the neon message in a window above the 9:30 club. It turned out they were looking at the wrong window; the real sculpture was Bruce Nauman's triple sign, "Perfect Door, Perfect Odor, Perfect Rodo" (pictured across the top of this page).

Nauman's rearrangement of words -- like an illuminated scrabble game -- gave credence to graffiti on a wall down the street, attributed to Andy Warhol: "Art is anything you can get away with."

Among the works displayed are Jerry Noe's ribbons of pastel neon at the Lansburgh building at Eighth and E streets NW; Robert Dick's scarlet neon rods, at 501 Seventh St. NW., in five mirrored boxes; Bill Cristenberry's walnut "jewel boxes," at 408 Eighth St. NW., that are filled with glass marbles and small pastel neon rings; and Stephen Ludlum's neon tables (pictured at right), that can be found facing Metro Center at 12th and F streets NW.

Georgia sees one immediate benefit for viewers who've walked through the exhibit: "Neon Fronts," she says, will make those who have seen it "look at the neon around them with a little more scrutiny. . . . We hope it will make people more aware of their surroundings."

Those interested can pick up free maps to "Neon Fronts" at the WPA Building, 400 Seventh Street NW, Monday through Saturday.