Though the flash of the spectacular $53.9 million sale of van Gogh's "Irises" at Sotheby's in New York last week blinded almost everyone, there were at least a few who averted their eyes long enough to notice the $3.3 million an unidentified U.S. private collector paid for Georges Braque's "Music" (now called "Le Violon"), which the Phillips Collection had put on the block.

Though the sum was paltry compared with the big sale that night -- and at the low end of the $3 million to $4 million the Phillips expected -- gallery Director Laughlin Phillips said he is satisfied with the sale. "We are fortunate that the Braque will stay in the United States," he said after the auction. "Of course, one always hopes for more. Aside from the van Gogh, it was a sluggish auction."

The money earned must go into an acquisition fund, according to the rules of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which stipulates that all proceeds from sales must be spent on other works. The Phillips would rather use the funds for conservation, scholarship and catalogues. As a compromise, the gallery proposes to keep the millions in an acquisition fund and use the income from it for curatorial purposes.

Will the gallery use the fund itself for buying more pictures? "Not at this stage -- we have no pressing needs," said Phillips. Not likely either, considering the mile-high prices for art these days, making $3 million a drop in a bottomless bucket.

More acquisition money could be made from additional deaccessions, but Phillips would only hold out that possibility for some of the never-shown paintings of the collection's 2,000 works. "There are no plans now," he said, perhaps recovering from the loss of the Braque. Very few museums like to see any work go. "It's an obvious loss," Phillips said. "But I'm happy with the thought that it will ultimately serve the best interests of the collection."

Poet Lore

Poet Lore, a local poetry magazine, will get new leadership this week as the Writer's Center takes over literary and publishing oversight from Heldref Publications.

The quarterly, which has published the work of such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound, has changed hands and locations many times since its founding in 1889. For the last 10 years, it has been put out by Heldref, a local nonprofit company that also publishes 45 academic and scholarly journals. Heldref approached the Writer's Center, a 2,000-member writers' support group in Bethesda, about taking it over.

"We're excited about having Poet Lore in a writers' organization," says Executive Editor Philip Jason. "It's a more electric environment that will bring a new infusion of ideas." Jason and fellow executive editors Barbara Lefcowitz and Roland Flint hope to use volunteers from the center to help them put out a better publication. "Having people really excited about the product will improve the quality," says Jason.

Actually, very little should change in the switch-over. All the current editors have worked on Poet Lore for years, and the staff will not change. Heldref also will continue to help fund the magazine with an annual grant, and will take back the publication if it does not succeed at the center.

Success, of course, is gauged a little differently at literary magazines, which are notorious financial black holes. Jason hopes to extend the readership and size. About 700 copies of the publication and its 140 poems go out to subscribers each quarter. With the magazine's centennial only two years away, Poet Lore will begin reprinting poems from past issues, including some from the 1889 original.

The transfer will be kicked off with a party this Saturday at 8 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Bethesda.

The Prettiest Date

In the worth-the-price department, the 1988 Original Print Calendar ($75) is now available. Twenty-nine members of the Washington Area Printmakers collaborated to produce the eclectic collection of screen prints, linocuts, intaglios, etchings and even computer prints. The finely crafted work in the group's ninth calendar ranges from a solemn, bundled-up woman leaning by a colorful window for January, through a menacing black-and-white horse on a carousel for July, to a smooth winter scene in Rock Creek Park for December. All the works are numbered and signed by the artists. The high quality is apparent throughout, and if looks aren't reassuring enough, know that previous editions are in the Library of Congress, the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. To get this year's, call Betty MacDonald at (703) 790-5568.

Around Town

Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., a group of lawyers will make fools of themselves for a good cause: to benefit the Dance Exchange. The Law and Arts Committee of the Young Lawyers Section of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia will sing, dance and put on skits in an original variety show called "Probable Flaws" (as in "probable cause"). It's at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts; call 223-6600 for information.

And if you want to bid in an auction that won't set you back zillions, try the Washington Project for the Arts' eighth annual art auction on Sunday. On sale to benefit the WPA will be works by such local greats as Gene Davis, Leon Berkowitz and Sam Gilliam. The auction, with guest auctioneer William Ruprecht of Sotheby's (where the $53.9 million van Gogh was sold), starts at 7:30 p.m. All works will be on display from Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.