It was, simply, a great party.
At last night's celebration of the Hirshhorn Museum's 10th anniversary, there were strawberries to dip in chocolate sauce, glitzy clothes, huge crowds, sentiment and nostalgia and excitement and giddiness.
There were also serious looks, smiles of appreciation and edgy glances as guests studied the anniversary exhibit, "Content: A Contemporary Focus, 1974-1984."
It was a party with everything.
"There's something for people to love and something for people to hate," said exhibit co-organizer Howard N. Fox of the show. "Let's hope love prevails."
It was the kind of party where black tie takes on new meaning, where people wear electric blue taffeta tuxedos, jewelry so large and unusual it would fit perfectly in the exhibit, belts that from the rear look like two puffy hands wrapped around the wearer's waist.
Fox's tuxedo was decorated for the evening with a Hirshhorn anniversary button, a nickel adorned with a matchstick (the main component of one piece in the exhibit), a rose on the lapel and a stem of small fuchsia flowers rising from the cummerbund.
"I'm the florest primeval," he said with a giggle. He'd been saying it all night. It was that kind of party.
More than 1,000 guests (maybe more than 1,200 -- no one could keep track) were there, waiting to walk through the narrow passages of a labyrinth, blinking at neon, standing frozen in front of grim and bloody photographs, staring at the 50,000 nickels and matchsticks, pulling on ropes attached to a grass-roofed hut that raised curtain after curtain after curtain to reveal a red swastika in the center.
Nearly two dozen artists with pieces in the exhibit were there, all wearing white carnations and listening to the reactions.
"I dread what I sometimes hear," said Paul Thek with a grimace. Thek's "Missiles and Bunnies" had -- like the party -- just about everything in it, including a stuffed penguin, a fan, cutouts of rabbits and fading newspaper clips.
"Actually, I listen very intently to what they say," said Thek. "My business is communication, and if I'm not communicating I need to know. I think I'm talking kindergarten talk, it's so clear and straightforward, but a lot of people don't seem to understand."
Artist Jim Sanborn wasn't worrying about what people said -- it was what they did that upset him.
"The first two people who came through here jumbled it all up," he said, standing in front of his "Lightning and Other Earthly Forces," an installation that includes a line of lodestones floating several feet above the ground at the end of fine thread. "I want them to be motionless. If they swing, they stick together because they're magnetized. I sort of have to stand at the periphery."
Sanborn proceeded to stand at the periphery for most of the rest of the party, watching the people watching the stones. They behaved themselves very well.
And the crowds kept coming.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I need a couple of inches here," a guard called out, struggling against the wall of shoulders and backs.
Some guests gave all their attention to the silver tureens of hot chocolate sauce. Others collapsed gratefully on benches in front of examples of video art and watched them several times through before struggling to their feet. Many said it was exciting that a "conservative" city like Washington should have such a show.
"Now this," said Houston socialite Joanne Herring, standing in front of the first piece in the show, "I think is very interesting."
Herring later wandered through a narrow door into the small, dark room that housed Peter Campus' work. Inside, a black and white projection of a huge, glaring woman's face stared down at all intruders.
"Now that I don't mind," said Herring.
Earlier in the evening, Olga Hirshhorn, widow of museum founder Joseph Hirshhorn, greeted a group of 300 artists, lenders and staff members at a buffet dinner.
"Joe Hirshhorn," she said, "liked a good party, especially if it was free."
Last night's party was free.