Sexy Elephants with Secret Compartments 

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Admit it. You Tivo-ed Simon Schama's "Power of Art" series on PBS. You dig Sister Wendy, the bubbly British nun who gets a kick out of Ingres' nudes and Picasso's famously frank hookers -- er, models. Or maybe you actually found yourself paying attention in that art history class you took for the sole purpose of meeting hot girls. Regardless of how it happened, you do, in fact, like art. Hit your culture cravings with this fall's must-see shows.

The Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art at the University of Richmond gets downright sexy with "The Sacred and the Sensuous: Hindu Art from the Collection," (Sept. 19-June 29). The esoteric gang's all here: Ganesha, the half-elephant, half-man deity of education and intellectual pursuits, is delicately carved from wood; and a bronze Cambodian Vishnu strikes a contortionist pose that predates Cirque du Soleil — and Sting — by a good two centuries.

The Harnett also offers "'Of Human Bondage': Etchings by John Sloan Illustrating W. Somerset Maugham's Novel" (Sept. 28-Feb. 16). This classic tale of self-discovery by everyone's favorite sexually ambiguous writer is told in a series of prints by John Sloan, a pioneer of American modernism who famously told the stuffy National Academy of Design where to stick it in 1907. (And no, the book has nothing to do with S&M.)

Across the city, 1708 Gallery ponies up the po-mo. "Outside In" (Sept. 7-29) features the work of installation artist Marilee Keys, whose works of recycled or "found" materials are more like miniature environments than passive sculptures. In 1708's "Simple, Dumb Objects" (Oct. 5-27), artists Martin Brief, Dean Kessmann and Molly Springfield strip words of their meanings by distancing them from their original print sources — such as the New York Times — and reproducing them as art objects.

Fashionistas can look forward to the 10th annual Wearable Art runway extravaganza Nov. 10. Dubbed "Wearable Art X," the show promises to be an uptown version of previous years' promenades of plastic-spoon-fringed hemlines and beach-ball trains. 1708 has enlisted the expertise of Michael Taylor, founder of Michael Taylor Couture, and the show will feature professional models and lighting worthy of Bryant Park. Can we expect a performance along the lines of Alexander McQueen's trademark forays into madness or Betsey Johnson's burlesque peep shows? We'll see.

In the last of the "Look Here" exhibitions, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts unveils "Mystery" Oct. 6. Including African masks with enigmatic functions and 19th-century furniture with slyly hidden compartments, the show probes centuries of secrets buried in VMFA's permanent collection. "Mystery" continues to provoke as many questions as it answers through Dec. 30. S

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