- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2007

The chance to buy contemporary art at below-market prices drew about 500 guests to the Washington Project for the Arts/Corcoran’s annual auction gala on Saturday night. As cocktails were served in the Corcoran’s red-painted atrium, the crowd filled adjacent galleries to size up 69 works “all by rising stars,” according to executive director Kim Ward, who expected to raise $250,000 from the event.

“We’re inveterate bidders,” said lobbyist Tony Podesta, who was hoping to snap up photos by Noelle Tan. His brother John Podesta, the Clintonista who now runs a think tank, put a $600 bid on an Austin Thomas collage. As to whether he’ll work for one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, he said, “I’ll support Hillary as a private citizen.”

Giant Foods heir Robert Lehrman was among those bidding up “Tornado with Cows,” an oil painting by Jeffrey Wilson. Jack Rasmussen, director of American University’s Katzen Center, had his eye on Evan Summer’s grasshopper etching. Also picking out favorites were Max Brown, Michael Rankin, Bill and Alison Paley, and WPA founder Alice Denney, now writing her memoirs. “No publisher yet,” Mrs. Denney reported.

Arriving just in time for the dinner of crab salad, beef medallions and grapefruit-caramel meringue were Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and wife Michelle. “Art is a priority for D.C.,” the mayor pronounced. Was he going to bid on any of the edgy art works, such as the golden underwear among the table centerpieces? “We shall see,” was the noncommittal reply.

While bidding continued after dinner, talk turned to future plans for the oft troubled WPA. “It’s in transition, just like the Corcoran,” said gallery owner George Hemphill. “We need greater visibility,” admitted board chairwoman Jennifer Motruk Loy. More optimistic was the Corcoran’s new director Paul Greenhalgh in assuring the museum would continue to sustain the WPA.

“We’re looking toward a rosy future together,” he said.

— Deborah K. Dietsch

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