Impressionist Works Inspire Decor for Phillips Collection Benefit

For its annual gala, the Phillips Collection avoided damage issues by rehanging 30 percent of the paintings, which also inspired the art-themed decor.

By Danielle O'Steen May 18, 2009, 4:45 PM EDT

The Phillips Collection gala

Photo: Tony Brown/Imijination Photography for BizBash

On Friday night, the Phillips Collection transformed for its annual gala, turning each of its major galleries into decked-out dining rooms. Washington notables such as Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito and ambassadors from Spain, Japan, and Switzerland, among others, were in attendance, joining the 400-some guests for an evening of sustainable dining and late-night dancing, while raising dollars for the museum’s youth programs.

“Our thought was to make the educational programs the centerpiece of the event,” said Phillips director of special events Keith Costas. So escort cards included information on how the gala’s $520,000 proceeds will bring more than 4,000 students to the Phillips. Also, in place of standard giveaways, each setting included a handmade thank-you card from a child who had been affected by the Phillips (in addition to a complimentary year membership). The idea, for Costas, was to continually remind the guests of the evening’s purpose.

Of course dining amid the museum’s collection also offered a rare opportunity. To ensure the collection's safety, Costas collaborated with the conservation and curatorial staffs to reorganize the artworks. “We rehung about 30 percent of the galleries to accommodate the gala, so there wouldn’t be any issues or damage,” he said. “Each one of the rooms was also decorated in harmony with the works of art hanging in those galleries.”  

Certain spaces instantly revealed their inspiration, such as one gallery with blue-and-gold checkered linens set near a classic Mondrian. Or the Mantle Room, where many of the evening’s V.I.P.s were seated and which included tables topped with baby blue linens accented by rich brown swirls to complement the dark wood paneling, brightened by tall glass cylinders filled with blossoms in pink, green and yellow.  

For the menu, Costas worked with Occasions Caterers to source local and organic ingredients, culminating in Chesapeake Bay crab, wild shrimp, and day boat scallop salads; rosemary and corn madeleines; grass-fed veal loin with porcini mushroom sauce topped with enoki mushroom tempura; and a fondue of organic vegetables. To emphasize these careful choices, each source for the menu was also listed in the program.  

And to add an element of recycling, a dozen or so volunteers came in after the dinner and rebuilt each towering centerpiece into more than 60 smaller arrangements and delivered them the following day to the V.A. Medical Center. At the same time, buses transported guests over to the Anderson House for the after-party, which featured the Glenn Pearson orchestra and artist-inspired cocktails such as Lautrec Green Fairy Absinthe and Renoir Champagne Cocktail.

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