Status, among the culturally curious, is ranked by what sort of member you are (i.e., how much did you give?) of the institution in question.

At the Corcoran Gallery, for the price of a general or family membership, you and the other 2,006 members get white jug wine in a plastic cup and a chance at previews of new art openings. But if you're one of the 121 sponsoring members ($250 a year), 17 contributing members ($500 a year), or 13 fellows ($1,000) of the gallery, you expect more exclusive events, where the food and the drink are better.

The 100-odd people at the Corcoran last night thought their donations were well spent not only because they ate and drank well but because they had the chance to greet the new director of the Corcoran, Michael Botwinick.

During the evening the members went around congratulating themselves on the fact that Washington is now important enough as an arts center to lure an experienced museum director from New York.

David Lloyd Kreeger, in a welcoming speech, said that the Corcoran, the oldest museum in the city and one of the three oldest in the country, was able to attract Botwinick from his post as director of the Brooklyn Museum "because of the prestige of the Corcoran and because Washington is not Brooklyn."

Botwinick in reply said, "Kreeger was the third attraction. I've been on the job for three weeks, and I believe more than ever that the cultural ferment in Washington makes it the most exciting place to be for anyone who works in an art museum."

During the evening, the members ate delicacies from a circular table which surrounded the marble copy of the Canova Venus in the domed rotunda on the mezzanine floor, and congratulated themselves on their coup in hiring Botwinick. Gerson Nordlinger, who serves on 12 or 14 boards of cultural institutions, said, "I'm so glad that Botwinick understands the need for cooperation with other museums. He's already been to talk with the Phillips Collection."

The invitation read "cocktail buffet," which suggests to the knowing that you may be able to skip supper, if you're there early enough. It's certainly up one from plain "cocktails," which doesn't guarantee you won't have to stop at McDonald's on the way home. At the absolute bottom of the list, of course, is a cash bar, where you have to buy your own drink with no promise of more than peanuts. But last night was top-of-the-list all the way.

Kreeger, wearing black tie, joked that after he had shaken his way through the receiving line, he was going to serve drinks. He explained that the black tie was actually for a later party given by the Tastevin, a gourmet society, "dedicated to too much drink and too much food."

The 39-year-old Botwinick, in a gray suit to match the gray and blue decorations and contrasting with the gray walls, was cheered by a report he'd just had that 181 new members have joined since New Year's, following a mailing of 100,000 letters inviting membership.

Brigitte Savage, head of the membership drive, said that despite the recession, more of the new members than they had expected are joining up at the higher levels of contribution.

Frieda Arth, chairman of the Feb. 18 Corcoran black-tie benefit titled Video Artcade, was surveying the atrium, planning where she's going to put the 200 video game machines that will be the benefit's major attraction.

"My committee and I have been having the most wonderful time going around town to places like Flippers, trying out the games. I got the idea from my six children."

Botwinick's wife Harriet received inquiries from people wondering how she was settling in to Washington with young sons Jonathan, 12, and Daniel, 9, who are going to Maret and Potomac schools, respectively. In Brooklyn, they had a large--by local standards--brownstone. In Washington, she reported, they've bought a good-size house near the Cathedral. "We came down to look for a house before the new members of Congress got here." Harriet Botwinick is already a true Washington woman--she's going to be a real estate agent here, as she was in New York. She laughed when they told her in Washington "everyone has two businesses--their own and real estate."