- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Its not often that the renowned Shanghai Quartet can be heard playing background music at a reception. But then few people are as culturally astute as Milo Beach, retiring director of the Smithsonians Freer and Sackler galleries, who lured the group to Thursdays gala dinner marking the opening of the latest Sackler exhibit, "Worshipping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits." The evening proceeded in appropriately regal style.
The quartet performed on a staircase leading down to an ante room in the Sackler before 225 guests walked along the museums well-marked "Silk Route" to dine by candlelight under the stars in the intimate courtyard of the Freer. Gentlemen present were invited by their host to remove their jackets for comfort in the heat. Another unusual note was having two caterers, Occasions and Design Cuisine, help with the menu of vichyssoise, pepper seared duck and coconut mousse with ginger ice cream.
A lighthearted note was supplied when guests took turns posing with their faces pressed against life-size cardboard cutouts of ancestral royalty, a playful feature among the colorful and compelling 40 wall-size portraits on view through Sept. 9. "Select a costume. Do you look serious or silly? Make the expression you want people to see 100 years from now — your 'eternal face," read the sign beside the cutouts. A mirror on the facing wall captured their expressions, as well.
The exhibition celebrates the Chinese practice of revering ones ancestors, with the poses revealing much about the customs of the different eras from the 15th century to the mid-20th. For the most part, the Mandarins sit rigidly in their elaborate robes, gazing ahead with detached, inscrutable expressions, fingering beads or folding their arms within their heavily embroidered sleeves.
Some of the formal garb worn by the live assembly almost seemed to match the imagination displayed in the ancestral robes on display and in the paintings. One male guest had on a long dark "monks robe," another had buttons made of old 100 rupee gold coins on his sleek, black Jodphuri jacket, and a third was in a white silk shirt and trouser combination. Robin Berrington, an American cultural attache in Tokyo four different times between 1969 and 1993, chose a short, white, cotton jacket with the black and red Japanese imperial sun on the back to go over his tuxedo. There were saris and fancy shawls on the women. Jill Sackler wore a slender black and gold cheongsam she had bought recently in Shanghai. Manju Singh, a niece of the Maharani of Jaipur, bedazzled tablemates with her fabulous collection of gold, diamond, emerald and sapphire bracelets and rings.
The day also marked former Speaker of the House and Ambassador to Japan Tom Foleys new turn as a member of Goldman Sachs advisory board, according to his wife, Heather, now a Capitol Hill assistant to Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat.
Netherlands Ambassador Joris Voss was ecstatic about the quartet since both he and Mr. Beach are chamber music fans, he said.
The show is an original like many others seen in the two adja- cent Smithsonian museums during Mr. Beachs 17-year tenure at the Smithsonian. They included pop art from Japan, court arts of Indonesia and photographs of life in colonial India. The Harvard-trained director, 61, whose own specialty is Mogul art, made it his mission to broaden public knowledge and awareness of the wide range of Asian art.
He plans to leave his job Oct. 1 and return to a life of scholarship, specifically to work on a prized Iranian manuscript that he has called the most important imperial Mogul book ever created. (Moguls were the Muslim conquerors of India. Mr. Beach once said that he was first inspired by Indian cultural life as a student at Harvard listening to Ravi Shankers music.)
By coincidence, two other major museum heads, Robert Fri at the National Museum of Natural History, and the Folger Shakespeare Librarys Werner Gundersheimer, will be leaving their posts within the year to pursue other interests, as the veiled phrase of custom has it. None uses the word retirement. "Were not the retiring type," volunteered Mr. Gundersheimer, who said he planned to write, research, travel, teach, do some consulting and "go fly fishing."
That applies, as well, to such past administration officials as former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who is heading up a center at Yale University to study globalization, funded in part by the MacArthur Foundation. Its quarters are a campus building "that once housed the C.I.A. the Culinary Institute of America," he hastily explained, smiling.
In a conversation later, Mr. Beach spoke of having several projects in India that he plans to pursue. And this summer, he will travel to Germany with his wife Robin to hear concerts organized by cellist Yo Yo Ma that relate to plans celebrating the great Silk Road at next years Folk Life Festival on the Mall.
He was more careful replying to a question about reasons for leaving his post, saying only that "there are things happening at the Smithsonian that, for me, make it an ideal time to do the research I want to do." The implication was that pressure to raise funds has cut drastically into his private interests.
On the importance of his museums public programs, he was more open. "What we need is for young people to have more awareness of art of all cultures, and especially of Asia with which they are not familiar." Obviouslypleased with progress to date, he said: "Consider that when the Freer opened in 1923 no one had much contact with Asia except mentally." Categories such as "East" and "West" applied to art are often erroneous, he suggested. "I think any intelligent human beings should want to know any other intelligent human beings."
The last exhibit being planned under his "reign" features the work of contemporary Chinese-born artist Xu Bing. "Chinese visual art, like Chinese music, is one of the most fertile fields at the moment," he noted.
Guests at Mr. Beachs final gala included Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small; radio host Diane Rehm (whose husband John is a Sackler docent); former CIA Director Richard M. Helms and his wife, Cynthia; Katharine Graham; Ken and Keval Bajaj; C. Boyden Gray (with his stepmother, Nancy Pyne, and her husband, Eben Pyne); Helene Philon; Max and Heidi Berry; brothers Conrad and Calvin Cafritz (who once fought a long legal battle over their mother, Gwendolyn Cafritzs, will); Alexander and Eleanor Trowbridge; and John and Caroline Macomber.

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