The National Academy of Design here is one of the very few places where artists no longer in fashion are treated with respect, and where younger artists of proven ability are honored by being elected to membership in a major art institution by the votes of their peers. It is also where a growing number of first-rate exhibitions devoted to important, if occasionally still obscure or underrated movements, schools, and artists, are held; where art is taught by practicing professionals in a school run by the academy; and where one is very likely to see the work of painters, sculptors, and printmakers who haven't exhibited elsewhere in years.
For a large number of its members and other artists throughout the United States, however, the most important thing about the academy is its annual exhibition, which has been held every year since 1825, and which has long served as the main showcase for the realist and figurative tradition in American art.
The academy's 160th Annual Exhibition was limited to members, each of whom was permitted to enter one piece jury-free. The roughly 150 paintings, sculptures, watercolors, and graphics included were then submitted to select groups of member artists who acted as juries for awards in the various categories.
After due deliberation, the latter designated 28 artists as the winners of more than $18,000 in prize money, with the top awards going to Jerome Witkin for his excellent painting ``Headstone: Portrait of Claudia Glass'' and Gregory Gillespie for his landscape ``The Stroller Paradise Walk.'' Other major winners were John Hultberg, Gerson Leiber, Morton Kaish, Jules Kirschenbaum, Hans Moller, and Esteban Vicente.
By and large, those who won deserved to, while many of those who didn't should not even have been included. The problem with these nonjuried, members-only academy shows is that they permit weak and, in some instances, just plain bad work to be shown, merely because it was done by a member. The result, in this instance, is the weakest annual exhibition I've seen in several years, with no more than a dozen paintings, and 20 or so pieces from the other categories combined, deserving of inclusion in an exhibition so national in scope.
The academy does much better with its juried, open-to-everyone annual shows held every other year. These have begun to attract some highly talented younger artists, as well as a few established ones who would not have thought of submitting their work a decade or so ago. It is to them that the academy must look for its future vitality and quality. An annual exhibition such as this one, unfortunately, will not induce them to enter in 1986 -- or in 1988 or 1990, either -- when they will be eligible as nonmembers to do so.
At the National Academy, 1083 Fifth Avenue, through March 9.
The Drawing Center's commitment to the history and craft of drawing is well known, as are its group shows in which the drawings of emerging artists not professionally represented elsewhere are brought to the attention of both art professionals and the public. ``Selections 28'' is the 28th of these shows, celebrating the center's eighth anniversary. It includes the work of 10 younger artists, each of whom has taken advantage of the center's generous definition of drawing to exhibit highly personal and occasionally rather idiosyncratic work. Since this definition accepts as drawing all unique works executed in any medium on paper, the range of techniques and styles in this exhibition is understandably broad.
Everything on view is at least interesting, and the works of Brian Bomeisler and Andrea Way are also quite promising. And Lesley Dill's huge ``Man of the World'' is a knockout, indicating that she may very well have what it takes to produce significant art.
At the Drawing Center, 137 Greene Street, in SoHo, through Feb. 16.