- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

A notorious fame freak like Andy Warhol would have been dismayed by how few celebrities none, actually showed up for the 1869 Society's "Things that POP" benefit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art Saturday night. But so what? The 700 guests, who paid $35 a ticket ($40 for nonmembers), merrily partied on, sipping white wine, checking out the Corcoran's "Andy Warhol: Social Observer" exhibit (which closes today), and dancing to the band Groove Spot.

Named for the year the Corcoran was founded, the 1869 Society is the gallery's younger-member support group, attracting philanthropic art and party lovers between the ages of 25 and 42 to artsy educational programs and more importantly for some monthly happy hours. With more than 1,000 members, it's "the most robust social, young professional association in Washington," boasted Meredith Margolis, the group's chairwoman, as she mingled with guests invited by corporate sponsors Mercedes-Benz and Details magazine at the pre-event VIP reception on the gallery's second floor.

Mercedes-Benz was there chiefly to promote its plush new C-Class car. "Get some soul," "Play hard" and "Find inner peace," read the messages in the slick brochure targeting the young but affluent consumers in the crowd.

"We're in the market to be able to afford a C-Class … in theory," Miss Margolis explained.

Mr. Warhol himself once said, "Buying is as American as thinking," though the only thing most guests were buying at the party were $5 glasses of wine and $3 Cokes from the cash bar.

Event co-chairwoman Patty Stolnacker, who wore a sparkly, "Warhol-era" black-and-white dress, called the evening a "fun and funky" lower-dollar alternative to the black-tie gala the society holds every spring. She said the group was hoping to raise at least $20,000 to support emerging artists and programs at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. The planned Frank O. Gehry addition to the museum has already had tremendous financial help from AOL Time Warner Inc. executives Barry Schuler and Robert Pittman, who recently donated $30 million toward the new wing, the largest gift in the Corcoran's history.

The February bash is an annual 1869 event, and while last year's theme was black-and-red attire and salsa dancing, on Saturday the guests' dress ranged from retro-chic to more traditional cocktail wear. There were also plenty of black turtlenecks thrown in as a sort of homage to Warhol, who was known to periodically and somewhat reluctantly pop up in this city to sign copies of his books, along with countless cans of Campbell soup. He took Valium before a visit to the White House in 1982; he confessed in his diaries: "I can't stand going to Washington, all those TV lights."

He did like one thing in Washington, though, said Laura Coyle, the Corcoran curator who installed the show. "He had a crush on Jack Ford," former President Gerald Ford's handsome son.

Ms. Coyle gave brief tours of the exhibit to the so-called VIPs at the pre-party (sorry, Andy, nobody famous there, either). In a gallery full of Warholian images of Judy Garland, Elvis and many Marilyns and Maos, the curator said she was struck by how "fleeting" celebrity really is. "If you go through this exhibition with anyone under 40, they won't know who half these people are. The only athlete they'll recognize is O.J. Simpson," she added, "and he's not famous for football anymore."

It seemed appropriately postmodern that the only person who managed a few minutes of fame was an Andy Warhol impersonator named Jim Nieb, hired for the evening from the agency Cast of Thousands, which specializes in celebrity look-alikes. He wore a white wig, little square-framed glasses and the requisite black turtleneck.

"Have you been to the (Warhol) museum in Pittsburgh?" he drolly asked a guest. "They've got everything but me there."

Then Mr. Nieb, in full Warhol mode, approached an amused-looking young woman: "What's your name?" he demanded.

"Cindy," she replied.

"How boring," he said, dryly, turning away to find someone more fabulous.

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