Re: Tiptoeing timorously toward the figurative.
I see the dominance of figurative sculpture over other forms, or vice versa, as a regional situation. To give an example from here in the sticks: Calgary shows much more interest towards the figure than Edmonton does (these are the two main cities in my province). This is a general observation, obviously, but I'm pretty confident making it.
Calgary is perceived to be very 'American' in many ways (a look at its growth from the early years will give you a good idea as to why this is). Looking south, and here I'm on less solid ground, I see a much much greater emphasis on the figure in art (you will find comparatively few representations of the hero in public art of the last 50 years up here) .
Edmonton had a visit from Clem Greenburg many years ago and this may explain why the figure is so discredited in Edmonton further north in addition to the distance from the national boarder. Iíll be surprised if institutions didnít a large effect on regional tastes as well.
I would expect to see regional differences in most countries. If there is a trend, one way or the other, I'm not wise enough to sense it. All I hope for is diversity and a hands off approach to directing the direction of the arts.
Iím interested to hear what others perceive in their neck of the woods.