IT is not easy to find meaning amid the drips and daubs, splashes and swirls of contemporary abstract painting. But John I. H. Baur, curator of Manhattan's Whitney Museum of American Art, believes he has found more in U.S. modern art than even the artists admit. He has documented his thesis with the works of 58 abstract sculptors and painters in a touring show, "Nature in Abstraction," now on view at the Phillips Gallery in Washington, D. C. The thesis: U.S. abstract painters, consciously or unconsciously, are bringing nature back into the picture...

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