Portrait of the artist as an angry man:

Just the mention of the time one of Richard Serra's pieces of sculpture fell on someone and crushed the person made the artist furious. "I think it's distasteful, bloodletting, and irresponsible to bring it up," Serra said, looking down over the balcony of the second floor of the Corcoran Gallery last night. "You know, one of Calder's pieces fell on someone and no one got on his back about it. If you ask me if I'm sensitive about it, I am. It happened 12 years ago and it's got nothing to do with my work. It's just an excuse for some media bloodletting."

He turned to collaborator and art historian Clara Weyergraf, standing next to him. "They want to know about what happened in Minnesota," he said in digust.

He stalked off.

In a room nearby were works by Richard Serra, one of the five artists displayed in the Corcoran's Biennial of Contemporary American Painting, which opened last night. They are expansive black linen monoliths of paintings hung high on the wall. They are securely hung.

Portrait of the artist enjoying herself:

"I love your color, it's fantastic," exclaimed Corcoran board member Ann Vanderpool to artist Joan Mitchell at the Biennial opening.

"It comes out of the tube, baby," Mitchell declared in her throaty voice.

"It's genuine oil painting -- painted by hand," she said giddily to another well-wisher as she stood surrounded by her works.

She had a few problems with the installation of the show. "I would have put this one there," she said whirling from "Good-Bye Door" to "Two Pianos", "and this one there." ("Two Pianos" goes to "la Vie En Rose.") "Or those two together." She grabbed the arm of Jane Livingston, associate director of the Corcoran, who selected the works and hung them. "Jane, I have to tell you I would have rehung the show. This violet is killed by this orange."

Livingston listened and nodded calmly.

"Oh, it's a fabulous show," Mitchell announced. "Let's go have a drink."

"Let's go," Xavier Fourcade, her New York dealer, said nervously, taking Mitchell's arm.

But before they went, there were photographs to be taken with artist Frank Stella. "I don't know," said Mitchell as she was asked to pose next to Stella. "I'm not sure if I'm famous enough for him."

Portrait of the famous artist:

Frank Stella grinned sheepishly, in gray suit, preppie glasses, thick cigar in hand. He mugged with Mitchell for the cameras.

He missed the dinner at the Sulgrave Club before the party at the museum.

"That was my dramatic non-event," he said. "I watched Ronald Reagan on TV instead. He was fabulous. Well, I don't like him too much, but I'm glad he thinks everything is going to be wonderful."

Frank Stella said he thought his part of the show was hung just fine.

"He's very New Wave," said Washington artist Manon Cleary of Stella's work. "Very punk. All that glitter."

One person who didn't give up the dinner for the president's budget speech was Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee which oversees the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. "I'll read it," Yates said.

Portraits of the artists as absentees:

Richard Diebenkorn and Agnes Martin didn't show. Diebenkorn's dealer -- Larry Rubin of Knoedler Gallery -- did. As did dealers Leo Castelli (who represents Serra and Stella) and Irving Blum (who also represents Serra) with their friend Brooke Hayward, author of "Haywire."

"Two years ago, I represented four out of five of the artists in the Biennial," said Castelli. "This year, it's two out of five. I'm slipping."