- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

The usual suspects were spilling from the sidewalk onto the street in front of Georgetown's Govinda Gallery on Friday night, focusing, as ever, on the people as much as the paintings and photographs on display at the District of Columbia's trendiest art emporium.

But this time the lights seemed brighter, the chatter louder, the traffic tighter, with triple the normal police presence to make sure no one got run over at the gallery's big 25th-anniversary bash.

What a crowd it was: the requisite artists (successful, struggling and those somewhere in between); lots of cute models (need you ask?); Georgetowners in designer finery; punky, funky types perfecting the tattoo-and-torn-clothing look; preppy Georgetown University students stopping by on their way to neighborhood bars; slightly long-in-the-tooth scenesters who have "been there, done that" and likely will again.

"This is as 'New York' as it gets," Where Magazine Editor Jean Cohen said in tribute to Christopher Murray, the Manhattan-born gallery owner who "gets a crowd unlike anyone else in Washington."

Credit Mr. Murray's relentlessly hip personal style, along with an unfailing sense for popular culture that transcends the merely ephemeral. After 2 and 1/2 decades in the business, he has refined his sensibility for visual works that are not only cutting edge, but highly likely to stand the test of time in both historical and investment contexts.

Though well-known for exhibiting paintings and limited-edition prints by leading pop artists, including the late Andy Warhol, Mr. Murray achieved his greatest success as a dealer in contemporary photography, especially related to the worlds of music and fashion.

As expected, those were the pieces that drew much of the attention Friday night at the retrospective of 64 artists who have displayed their work at Govinda over the years.

"Many of them had their first shows here," Mr. Murray crowed, pointing to Annie Leibovitz's famous bedside photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, taken a few days before Mr. Lennon was murdered.

"A defining moment for both of them, and for Annie Leibovitz, too," he noted, going on to predict that 40 years from now, such pictures will be regarded as "important documents of 20th-century culture."

Other early Beatles portraits, by Astrid Kircher, Harry Benson and Linda McCartney, proved popular with the first-night crowd, though it was hard to slight Mark Seliger's close-up of doomed rocker Kurt Cobain, Greg Gorman's Michael Jackson (in a butterfly veil), Firooz Zahedi's Vanity Fair take on Dennis Hopper (wearing a suit and high heels) or George Butler's early view of the then-unknown "Arnold [Schwarzenegger] Flexing."

Daniel Kramer, an Englishman whose 1962 album cover shot of Bob Dylan was on display, took care to credit Mr. Murray for being "very respectful about the works and about the photographers as well."

"If he's conning you, he's very, very good at it," Mr. Kramer said with a laugh.

Invitations to the after-party at nearby Halcyon House drew the line between the spectators and the in-crowd, about 200 of whom passed muster at the door (including Kara Kennedy Allen, Bill and Alison Paley, Gail Percy and Wade Davis, collector Henry Flood Schoellkopf, photographer Lucian Perkins and painters Abigail Adams and Howard Carr).

Guests wandered into the garden overlooking Key Bridge and the Potomac to sip cocktails, gossip and fashion critique before heading downstairs to artist John Dreyfuss' studio, where the DJ sounds of Thievery Corporation, a set of '60s and '70s hits by rock icon Donovan and a parade of pretty former "Govinda Girl" assistants kept things lively until the wee hours.

"I think I'm at a 'happening,'" one guest said, which, of course, was entirely the point.

It's pretty much a continuous norm for Mr. Murray as well.

"I was always the young guy on the block," he said as the party started winding down around 2 a.m., "and I'm still trying to feel that way."

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