As is usually the case of art affairs, everybody whizzed through the paintings, grabbed drinks and a turkey slice or three, then settled down to yammer about the serious stuff.

Last night at the opening of an exhibit of art by Egyptian children, the serious stuff was, not surprisingly, Arab-Israeli and black-Jewish relations.

"Some people are telling dirty jokes," said Bayly Winder, a professor from New York University. "But there's also been a good deal of talk about the Middle East."

Blacks, also not surprisingly, got praise from the largely Arab group that gathered at the largely pro-Arab Middle East Institute.

"The ought to be saluted," said Egyptian Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal about Jesse Jackson's and D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy's travels in the Middle East. "The fact that they are there seeing people, finding out about the situation -- it's beautiful.

Economic development in the Middle East was the other concern as American oil people and other executives stood among the 100 or so guests and talked shop. Like Lachlan Reed, an investor who's just back from road building in Oman:

"There's nothing there but a hotel and a stall where they sell dried cat's meat," he said.

The exhibit, entitled "Egypt: Through the Eyes of Children," was selected by Jihan Sadat, wife of the Egyptian president. The paintings and handiwork are all by Egyptian students age 8 to 15 and will be on display at the institute until Oct. 26.