If variety is the spice of life, there are a number of well-seasoned exhibits in local art museums and galleries.

- ATTRACTING ATTENTION at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts is an exhibition of 75 paintings, drawings, collages and sculptures from the collection of Patricia and Phillip Frost.This traveling show spotlights American Abstraction from 1930 to 1945. Most of the works have been created by members of American Abstract Artists, a group formed in 1937 to promote abstraction in the United States.

These artists were well-grounded academically. They respected past art but recognized that they had to seek new forms to speak to the conditions of a contemporary world.

This art records a fascinating period between realism and abstract expressionism. It was a time of groping, experimentation - and frustration. As with any new style, it found very few advocates among the press, critics and museums. As a result, those artists who continued to pursue it were rugged individualists who would not be intimidated by criticism.

Although the artwork on display seems tame now, it sent shock waves across the nation. But this appears to be the fate of any new art style.

In retrospect, museums and critics today realize that this abstract art played a significant part in the evolution of modern art.

With the exception of Joseph Albers and Hans Hofmann, the other artists whose works are in this collection are not household names. Few of them are mentioned in art history books. Nevertheless, they have made significant contributions in abstract art. And the quality of this exhibit is proof.

Highly impressive works include "Abstraction" by Rosalind Bengelsdorf, "Upward" by Emil Bisttram, "Gridiron" by Carl Holty, "The Spectral Attitudes" by Gerome Kamrowski and "Machine Composition #2" by Irene Rice Pereira.

When viewing the exhibit, you will become increasingly aware that these artists looked to European modernism for such styles as cubism, constructivism and neo-plasticism.

- ANOTHER NEW SHOW at UMFA that's sprinkled with a lot of variety is "The 28th Ceramic National Exhibition: Clay, Color, Content." And Salt Lake is fortunate to be one of the four cities selected to display this prestigious show.

For 58 years now, the Everson Museum in Syracuse, N.Y., has hosted this national exhibition. Apparently it is held every other year.

According to the museum's director Ronald Kuchta, the purpose of the exhibit is to showcase ceramic masters as well as those on or approaching the latest cutting edge.

Twenty ceramists were invited to submit one work. Competing in the juried segment of the show were 826 artists who submitted over 2,400 works. From this vast group, only 56 artists survived. One of them just happened to be Joseph Bennion of Spring City, Utah.

These works run the gamut from functional vessels to sculptural works; from traditional approaches to highly experimental ones.

For one reason or another, many of the pieces will definitely catch your eye. Some will thrill you with their simple shapes and crisp lines; some will boggle your eyes; and some will make you laugh.

Take a look at David Furman's "Tres Dibujos," a bulletin board with various objects attached to it. Did you know that every object in that sculpture is made of clay?

Other fascinating pieces include Mark Campbell's stoneware bowl constructed of small pitchers, bowls, cups, etc.; Ralph Bacerra's porcelain vessel covered with a potpourri of geometric patterns; and Kathryn Sharbaugh's black-and-white bands on her porcelain vase.

The American abstraction exhibit remains at UMFA through Nov. 17. The ceramics exhibition continues through Dec. 22. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.

- FEATURED AT the Pierpont Gallery are some fascinating sculptures by Stephen A. Goldsmith. Displayed on pedestals are a number of small works in a series titled "Homes for Here and Now." Each of these expertly crafted sculptures has a base, a door, a wall, a room - and something soft.

Goldsmith is a believer in the integrity of the material. And he combines materials that many sculptors wouldn't think of combining, and does it in such a way that they're completely compatible - and highly aesthetic.

Being director of Artspace Inc. consumes much of Goldsmith's time. But fortunately he finds time not only to make small works, but large public works as well.

Not many Salt Lakers are aware that he has completed five public works:

- A large water "feature" in front of Primary Children's Medical Center. Its design allows patients to play in and around the work.

- An exterior area to Courtyard Gallery. Here he incorporated essential structural elements in his design and turned existing concrete walls into a visually attractive area, including a narrow, cascading watercourse.

- A folly at the Terry-Gile residence. Included in this project are a water garden and sculpture to alter the perspective of the shallow grounds.

- A visually dynamic plaza entrance at the new South Campus of the Salt Lake Community College. It's a powerful water work with two windows. One perfectly frames a view of Mt. Olympus; the other, the top of City Creek Canyon.

- The Pierpont Walkway between Pierpont Avenue and 200 South just west of Baci's Restaurant. The walkway is dotted with rectangular blocks with the word "heart" in 25 languages. Water cascades over a Goldsmith sculpture at one point along the walkway.

Mention should be made, however, that Goldsmith worked with architects, construction companies, artists and others during the planning and creation of these public works.

Photos of these projects currently hang on the walls of the Pierpont Gallery. The show continues through Nov. 1.

The public is invited to participate in a private tour of Goldsmith's installations on Monday, Oct. 21, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Stephen Goldsmith, Bonnie Phillips and Renee Fitzpatrick will conduct the tour. Cost is $25 per person, which includes transportation and refreshments. Make reservations before Thursday, Oct. 17, by calling Renee at Phillips Gallery, 364-8284.