This summer's two major art exhibitions - ''Emerging Massachusetts Painters'' at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and ''Boston Now: Sculpture'' at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) - have much in common. Each features local artists. Each is brimming with energy. Each is mounted by a major institution. And each is thin.
But thin in different ways. The MFA exhibition (through Sept. 2) has a provocative thinness - suggesting that the 38 works chosen represent only a hint of the richness of the 15 painters on display. It is thin by choice: It consciously sets out to cover a broad range of talents. From the photo-realism of Northampton painters Frances Cohen Gillespie and Scott Prior to the mixed-media extravagances of Roger Kizik and the decorative mythic animals of Faith Wilding, the show spreads a smorgasbord of styles - leaving the viewer convinced that most of these dishes could, of themselves, become splendid main courses.
Particularly splendid, for my tastes, were the pieces that brought together intense energy with a kind of cool maturity and clear simplicity. For all its apparent complexity of detail, Scott Prior's ''Nanny and Rose'' - a photographically rendered porchscape of woman, dog, and summer sunlight coming through screens on a small-town street - is inherently simple. More than a mere tour de force in the handling of paint, it is also a compelling statement on the nature of reality, distilled into the simplicity of the honey jar beside the mug on a folding table. At the abstract end of the simplicity scale are the two glowing, untitled abstractions of Frank Campion.Nothing but thickly troweled squarish fields of pigment edged by Pollock-like dribbles, they bespeak a settled calm superimposed upon busy chaos - and make you want to see more. Also worth comment: Dana Chandler's masterly portrait (''The Ghetto''); Michael Russo's visceral renderings of bridge abutments, water, and sky; and Nan Burks Freeman's mixed-media pieces - dark, condensed, but ultimately radiant, like haystacks blown apart in a storm.
The ICA sculptures (through Aug. 19), while vigorous, have a different sort of thinness.One wanders through a multilevel exhibit that is touched here and there by wisps of power, but missing the hint of depths beneath the surface. Technically, there is plenty of artistry here: Bostonians obviously know how to carve stone, mix plaster, bend wood, and fabricate video presentations. But the artists here rarely seemed to drive past technique into art.
Which is not to say that they don't drive toward ideas.There is plenty of thought here - lots of wit, cleverness, and sheer intelligence. But so many of the constructions - Harold Tovish's ''Institution,'' for instance, or ''haute CULTURE II,'' by the Spanish-born Muntadas - depend so much on their driving ideas that they almost seem to deserve prose, not matter, as their substance.
That said, there is interesting work here by Robert Lewis, Paul Oberst, Jod Lourie, and Carlos Dorrien - all of whom, one way or another, stand back and respect the substance.