TO JULY 26

If the organic sculptural abstraction of the ’80s seems destined to sound a lost chord, that’s because few other Americans could aspire to the craft or formal sophistication of Martin Puryear. His equals were to be found in Britain, among the generation that included Tony Cragg and Richard Deacon. In a class of his own in the United States, the woodsier, more purist Puryear shunned alliances, rejected elder-statesman status, and, after a well-received mid-career retrospective that came to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1992, kept to himself, remaining visible but always aloof. Along the way, he became a darling of Time magazine critic Robert Hughes, perhaps because Puryear’s multicultural researches had produced a distinctive formal language—muscular and elegant, accessible and open-ended—but more likely because he was, at heart, an artistic conservative, an aesthete in an era of polemicists. It’s the conservative who’s on display in a small print show whose mandate is more mercantile, seasonal, and nostalgic (Puryear grew up in Washington and graduated from Catholic University in 1963) than curatorial. As befits an artist who prides himself on a hands-on process, there is some lovely softground and drypoint work (the latter being particularly strong in the case of the gracefully spiraling Untitled II), but the largely vessel-like forms (Jug is pictured) are toting around some pretty old ideas. Playing second fiddle to a worthy front-room painting show of mostly forgotten abstract expressionists, the seven Puryear prints constitute a minor view of a major figure. The show is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, to Saturday, July 26, at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1027 33rd St. NW. Free. (202) 342-5610. (Glenn Dixon)