- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

THE EVENT: The "Golden Age of the Corcoran" ball, Friday night at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. WHAT THEY SAW: The theme is always a closely guarded secret, and this years decoration fulfilled every expectation of surprise and enchantment.
Floral extravaganzas filled each of the many galleries where cocktail-sipping guests finally took their seats after extended tours of florist Jack Luckys extraordinarily eclectic creations. Gallery Director David Levy, ball chairwoman Joan Quigley, philanthropist Jim Kimsey, Virginia Sen. George Allen, British Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer and other notables assigned to the Salon Dore discovered crimson calla lily centerpieces and gleaming gold-trimmed crystal stemware that effectively complemented the elaborately gilded walls and ceiling, while others exclaimed over the black and white hide tablecloths and centerpieces of black roses and white lilies that matched the various cow prints on display in the "Cowhide Gallery." Most inspiring of all: the gallery containing Wayne Thiebauds famous cake prints, where each table was centered with an exquisite real cake embellished with hundreds of tiny violet and rose buds.
The transformation of the marble central stairway — red carpet, hanging red and white banners, enormous urns of spring flowers and fake but amazingly real-to-life "burning" braziers — was absolutely over the top. Susan Colby, pausing in wonderment to take in the full effect from the Atriums entrance, couldnt help observing that it looked like the "grand staircase the Titanic," while another guests was reminded of the temple scene in Cecil B. DeMilles epic "Samson and Delilah."
WHAT THEY WORE: Although there were the inevitable cocktail frocks and even a few pantsuits in evidence, most of the ladies opted for more traditional long dresses — all the better for sweeping entrances and whirling across the dance floor to the sounds of society orchestra leader Michael Carneys waltzes, tangoes and medleys of Cole Porter tunes.
Standouts included Jacqueline Leland (a flowing black Bruce Oldfield ball gown worn with an elegant fox-trimmed cape); Nina Pillsbury in classic Dior (also black); Pamela Peabody (a chartreuse silk sheath from Ungaros latest collection); Evelyn Nef (Italian silk harlequinade neck piece worn with a chunky emerald necklace by David Webb); Giselle Theberge in silver and black Oscar de la Renta; and Nini Ferguson, who caused a standstill in an off-the-shoulder Lanvin when she paused to chat with Sen. John Warner on the staircase.
Even the younger crowd got into the scene, especially a few junior committee members showing off vintage numbers: Martha Rooney Webb, for example, who looked splendid in a green pearl-beaded French gowns her mother, Evelyn Rooney, wore to the Kennedy inaugural ball in 1961.
WHAT THEY PAID: Tickets ranged from $375 per person to $35,000 for the top superpatron category (with about 80 juniors getting a price break at $250 apiece). Proceeds from the trustee- and Womens Committee-sponsored event (an estimated $500,000 this year) are earmarked for education programs and special acquisitions.
Much of the evenings buzz centered around plans for the gallerys much-heralded new landmark wing to be designed by world renowned architect Frank Gehry. Construction is set to begin by mid-2003.
"The space itself will be a work of art," said Mr. Levy, who is shepherding building as well as fund-raising efforts for the massive three-year, $120 million project.
About half the money has already been raised, of course, thanks to a $30 jump start from America Online executives Robert Pittman and Barry Schuler and an equivalent amount raised mostly from Corcoran trustees ($1 million-and-up donors include Duane Beckhorn, Bernard and Sherlee Koteen, Caroline Alper and Otto Ruesch).
The Corcoran will be closed for 30 to 36 months while the new building is erected and the old one completely renovated, Mr. Levy said, noting that the gallerys holdings will almost certainly be exhibited outside Washington during that time. (Hes hoping to be able to send highlights of the collection to St. Petersburg where art-loving Russians are eager to become acquainted with 18th- and 19th-century American works they have never been able to see before.)
No final decision has been made about "pay to view" exhibitions to help raise funds for likely cost overruns on the new wing, although Mr. Levy certainly isnt ruling it out.
"If we can make money, we probably will," he said.

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