Hanging With the Art in Washington

Parties that spotlight art have people lining up to join the scene.
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Washington has a vibrant, under-the-radar art party scene that has long been visible only to those in the know. But thanks in part to a growing community of art socialites, bloggers and paparazzi, nearly 3,000 people are suddenly pounding down the doors of a museum on a Friday night, and 700 are lining up in the rain to get into a crumbling skate park to see photography. Party organizers sometimes lament the new notoriety, but the crowds keep coming. This month, we fanned out to four events to capture a slice of the action.

-- Rachel Beckman and Lavanya Ramanathan

Fight Club, "Fixation," Nov. 14:

Getting to Fight Club, an underground skateboarding, art and music space near the Convention Center, involved stumbling down a brick, high-heels-unfriendly alley and waiting in a long line. In the rain.

Until the opening of "Fixation," a photography exhibit that was part of FotoWeek DC, the space was pretty much one of Washington's great hipster myths. (Even the name of the place is taken from the 1999 movie about a secret society: First rule of Fight Club, you do not talk about Fight Club.)

"We're not open. We're not anything," co-founder Dan Zeman told me warily. "We don't do any business here."

And that was part of the allure; more than 700 people -- posh galleristas, Howard students, moms, well-groomed men in blazers, skateboarders -- poured into that night's bash, which, despite the crowd, felt like a house party, with kegs and the whole standing-around thing.

The exhibit was sponsored by the Pink Line Project, which curates events in support of visual arts, and Ten Miles Square, a new group that fosters photography in the city. Philippa Hughes, Pink Line's founder, attributed the evening's success to a scene that's gone "viral." "You didn't need to announce it on the radio. . . . They just came, I don't know."

-- L.R.

Hirshhorn, "After Hours," Nov. 7:

"After Hours" is all about smashing through the stodginess of a typical museum experience. Instead of skulking around the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the Mall in silent reverence, try dancing around its courtyard like a maniac.

Looking at the 2,800 partygoers, it was hard to imagine that a single, good-looking, under-30 District resident was left beyond the museum's plaza walls. The Hirshhorn has hosted the party seven times since March 2007 and charges $10 in advance, $12 at the door. But a prepurchased ticket wasn't enough to dodge the hour-long security line that stretched two city blocks.

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