Of taste there is no disputing. It has been said for centuries, but the art world hasn't always heeded the wisdom. Happily for the Corcoran Gallery of Art and its support group, the Friends of the Corcoran, disputes seem to be a thing of the past.
Last night, as 180 of the 2,000 Friends convened for a black-tie dinner and celebrated their 25th anniversary, old artistic controversies between the gallery and its patrons merely point up the present tone of harmony.
In addition to the festivities, for which each guest paid $100, the Friends had some business to conduct: the selection of their yearly contribution to the Corcoran's collection. The Camerata Wind Quartet burbled forth the music of Mozart and Haydn while the Friends made their way into Gallery 17, viewed this year's choices and cast their ballots. In a break with tradition -- and in a gesture of unity -- the options were limited to two works by the same artist: "Iceberg" and "Razor's Edge," by Robert Moskowitz.
"Art is an entirely subjective matter," said Ned Rifkin, curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran. "There are no rights and wrongs." But there are opinions. Olga Hirshhorn, pointing to the bright red landscape "Razor's Edge," said, "I can't imagine anyone voting for that." Chris Middendorf imagined voting for it and did.
"I trust the taste of the public," said Wilhelmina Holladay, founder of the National Museum of Women's Art and both a trustee and Friend of the Corcoran. "If people select art with sincerity and without affectation, probably the selection will be excellent."
Either way Moskowitz was the winner. As the Friends dined, 10 to a table, in the Corcoran's atrium, the ballots were counted in Gallery 17. After the shrimp and scallop mousse, the peppercorn beef, the baby vegetables and the chocolate kumquat souffle', the announcement was made: The Friends had chosen the 13-foot "Iceberg," with its black, gray and white evocation of Frederick Edwin Church's seascapes.
"Moskowitz is one of the most interesting and well-respected artists," said Corcoran director Michael Botwinick, adding that "Iceberg" is "a picture that fits right into the personality of the collection."
It hasn't always been this harmonious. In 1968, the Friends jumped the acquisition gun and bought Louise Nevelson's "Ancient Secrets" without consulting the curators. Back came a curatorial "No," on the ground that the work was not in character with the rest of the collection. Off "Ancient Secrets" went -- on loan from the Friends of the Corcoran Gallery to the National Collection of Fine Arts. The Corcoran quickly changed its mind, and the Nevelson is part of the permanent collection.
The Friends, said Botwinick, is "a group that exists entirely in its enthusiasms." Those enthusiasms were materially evident in Gallery 15, where 12 of the works purchased by the organization were on exhibit. Of the 39 paintings and sculptures donated by the Friends over the last 25 years, Botwinick commented, "Not too shabby."
David Lloyd Kreeger, president of the Corcoran's Board of Trustees, expressed feelings of "happiness and gratitude that this adjunct organization has not only grown so splendidly but has been so supportive."
As the evening drew to an end, Kreeger summed it up by saying, "How nice it is to be among friends."