Sixth floor at Garfinckel's downtown store: sportswear, shoes, bridal salon, scissors; also, Bonnard & Braque, C,ezanne & Chagall, Hicks & Hopper, Picasso and Pippin. . .
"Are these for sale?" asked a woman who, looking like a million bucks, was wandering as if dazed among about a billion dollars worth of 19th- and 20th-century paintings.
"I'm afraid not, ma'am," responded one of about a zillion discreetly dressed security people who were standing around. "This is a selection of paintings from the Phillips Collection, here in Washington. They're on loan" while the Phillips building is being renovated.
The paintings are housed in a gallery designed to resemble the Phillips, and are hung with as much rhyme and reason as one could expect from a choice of 40 works produced in America and Europe by 40 different artists between 1846 and 1960.
The exhibit is the first of its kind, according to Garfinckel's Aniko Gaal, and was laid on so the paintings could be kept on view during the seven months it will take to refurbish the Phillips mansion at 1600 21st Street NW.
Other benefits are expected to rain down from this happy union of art and commerce. Garfinckel's, besides providing climate- controlled space and sharing security costs, will promote fund-raising events for the Phillips and will feature the show in its fall catalogue, "introducing The Phillips Collection to an entirely new audience," says the museum's Laura Lester.
They're reaching that new audience already. "Hey Boots," said one customer to her friend, who was working the other end of a dress rack, "shall we break for lunch or do you want to go in and look at the art?" The esthetic appetite prevailed.
The exhibition isn't the cream of the museum's collection, which has been sent on tour, but it's hardly the dregs. A dozen examples: "The Riviera" (1923) by Pierre Bonnard; "Portrait of a Woman" (1865-70) by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot; "House at Auvers" (1890) by Vincent van Gogh; "Sunday" (1926) by Edward Hopper; "After Rain" (c.1922) by Ernest Lawson; "Interior with Egyptian Curtain" (1948) by Henri Matisse; "Road to Vetheuil" (c. 1880) by Claude Monet; "Ranchos Church" (c. 1930) by Georgia O'Keeffe; "Six O'Clock" (c. 1912) by John Sloan; "Profile" (1937) by Chaim Soutine; "Abbey of St. Denis" (c. 1908) by Maurice Utrillo; and "Visiting Neighbors" (c. 1903) by Julian Alden Weir.
What's weird about the show is the way the works bang into each other. The viewer may grow dizzy from shifting perceptual gears so fast between closely hung paintings of wildly different styles. And, at least one morning this week, the pace set by some viewers was more appropriate to a bargain counter than an art gallery. After being nudge aside several times, one visitor retreated to a neutral corner, mumbling, "In the rooms the women come and go."
"Talking of Michelangelo?" responded a guard. HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION -- Through December 24 at Garfinckel's, 14th and F streets NW. Open 10 to 5 Monday through Saturday.