Last night's black-tie dinner at the Phillips Collection was, in part, a welcome-home party for the art that has been on tour. It was also part of the Phillips' drive to raise $5 million in the next few years for gallery renovations.
The threatened snowstorm, a $4 billion White House recession relief program and art were acceptable topics of conversation at the relaxed capon dinner for the Phillips' 33 new corporate sponsors.
But one thing the new corporate sponsors (each of whom gave at least $2,500 for the privilege) were not talking about was that the museum might close for six months this summer for the renovations. Gallery director Laughlin Phillips chose not to tell them right off.
"Well, we really haven't made the decision yet," said Phillips. "It's under consideration. If we decide to go ahead with it, we want people to know we have alternatives for them."
For example, evey sponsor gets to have at least one party at the gallery. Phillips said private homes or clubs would be available for those parties if the museum closes.
"Everyone knows we're raising the money to make the renovations," he said. "People understand."
Other forbidden topics: yesterday's overwhelming vote by the Israeli cabinet to accept the report of the inquiry commission on the Beirut massacre, as well as the future of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.
"Now that's one thing I will not comment on," said presidential counselor Edwin Meese. "We have all agreed not to talk about it."
"You can say that, with proper statesmanlike reserve, he refused to comment," said former Middle East negotiator Sol Linowitz. "I can't comment on that. I'm still advising."
"I'm not going to get into Israeli politics," said Richard Helms. "It was foreseen. Once the report came out, what could they do?"
In addition to the new corporate supporters, the party brought together an impressive Washington group: White House Chief of Staff James Baker, Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Agriculture Secretary John Block, outgoing HHS Secretary Richard Schweiker, Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Bryon White, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) and Rep. Tom Foley (D-Wash.), who with Baker was involved in the $4.3 billion jobs program that went to the Hill yesterday.
"We hope it works out," said Baker, referring to the fact the proposal has yet to be formally accepted by the Democrats.
"I think it's a positive move by the administration," said Foley. "We have to now present it to our colleagues in the House and Senate leadership and then we'll get back to the White House. I don't want to make any quick judgments."
Following a brief cocktail hour, when Phillips read a greeting from the president, the guests adjourned to a candlelight dinner.
They ate amid 19th-century Impressionist paintings in the old house and as they walked from one building to the another they were serenaded by the Strolling Strings, who continued to play throughout the dinner.
At the dinner James Kraft, a private business consultant in arts fund-raising, said, "Only a third of the corporations in this country give money to anything . . . Now obviously there are a lot more that can give."
"I say that may be as it should be," responded Travis Marshall, head of Motorola's Washington office. "Is it the function of the corporation to give? Perhaps the corporation's job is to make money for the stockholders and the stockholders can make donations to the arts."
In any case, Motorola made a donation.