Party Pooped The real problem with D.C.'s elaborate art fiestas? They're boring.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

I swear I’ve only done this once.

It was an evening in early April, and this is my memory of the conversation:

“I forgot to RSVP, but, um, I’m the arts editor of the City Paper,” I said to a volunteer outside a warehouse in Adams Morgan. “Any chance I can skip the line?”

I took out my ID and a business card. She eyed them, and eyed me.

“Give me one moment.” She walked back into the loading dock, where she asked another volunteer, “Where’s Philippa?”


She returned. “OK, go on in.”

“Thanks! Can I bring my five friends?”

“No, you can’t bring your five friends.”

So while they stood at the end of a line stretching around the block (wait: about one hour), I explored the Pink Line Project’s second annual Cherry Blast party. An On the Fly food truck sat on the first floor, where a DJ pumped grimy disco. Local indie singers Olivia Mancini and Maureen Andary chirpily entertained guests riding the elevator to a “dance hall” on another floor, which contained, among many attractions, a make-out club, the violinist Matthew Hemerlein performing in wizard regalia, and a few O’Keeffe-like drawings tacked on a wall. A few guests circulated with makeup bruises by the artist Amelia Winger-Bearskin. There was a wispy tunnel made of fabric on the dance floor. Seventies soul music throbbed. It was, to be sure, an impressive production.

And I was bored out of my mind. “If you walk out of this door, you can’t come back in,” a bouncer told me in the loading dock. “That’s cool!” I shouted, re-entering the night. Our evening ended with whiskey shots and bad Adams Morgan pizza.

Several months later, I was still trying to sort out what about that night—and what about D.C.’s arty party circuit in general—left me feeling so cold.

Here’s a few gripes to start: that the parties basically employ fine artists as court jesters, like wedding cover bands for the creative class. That the attendees, on the whole, tend to look a lot more attractive in photos posted online the following Monday than at the parties themselves. That I go to these events for the spectacle and the social opportunity, not the art. And that I don’t think I’m alone in that. No matter how inventive they are, the tone is utterly vacuous.

This is the point in the essay where I thought I’d invoke Warhol’s Factory parties and say something about the disingenuousness of authenticity arguments. I won’t waste your time. My simpler point is there’s not so huge a difference between Hughes’ elaborate theme parties and your typical First Friday opening, with its Styrofoam cups and serve-yourself white wine. Both, ultimately, feel like networking events.

I don’t doubt Philippa Hughes’ good intentions. Her Salon Contra events already have fascinating topics, sans DJs. But most of her events? They’re parties! They have booze! Which is totally fine, if drinking with D.C. careerists is your thing. It’s just that once you get past the artiness, not a lot of actual art makes its way into your consciousness. An evening in a dive bar is no less culturally enriching—and a good deal less annoying.

Our Readers Say

stay home........
"Is okay if my 5 friends read you essay?" That does take some balls and shows the fact that she has been to waaaay too many of these fine functions. Not everyone can go to 6 in row. Occasionally it's nice to mix art with interesting people and a bourban biz.
It is true that people that attend these events go for the spectacle and not the art, but hey, contemporary art has a lot to do with the spectacle. In fact, I owe a lot of money in loan debt that i had to get in order to find this out. My MFA was great because it opened my eyes (but emptied my pockets). But authenticity is another subject discussed in MFA circles along with many other trendy topics that actually leave "the art" as it is known, hidden in the closet. An artist has to be able to chose and go with the flow and perform (networking) or continue an alternative "artist" life style.
I personally dislike social events but i can force my self to perform and attend these events, It is a performance that could be documented and exhibited in the future. "Relashionship aesthetics" could be called.
I am sure that Charlie and PaulZ perform.
Any experience is what you make of it. As you said yourself, you aren't going for the art, but for the spectacle. Why not trying to go for the art? Meet the artists. Talk to them, ask them questions about their work. Look at it on the bright side: five years ago these events weren't happening. There is clearly a demand for them and the development of more public, interdisciplinary arts events says a lot about the level of awareness of and participation in contemporary art in DC. And that's a good thing.
I'd rather go to one of these and have parties with art or vice versa exist as an option for people who like "FUN" then the boring Jackie O dress exhibits Corcoran tried to pass off as art.
seriously. party overshadowing art. hit the nail on the head with the artists as court jesters.
Hey Pepperoni: I do perform..and I have been told, very well. Don't know Charlie. He would have to tell you.
It wouldn't be an art party if there wasn't some nobody local critic writing about how boring the party was and how there were hardly any artists there.

Old script. You played your part perfectly.

Dear: Sad, unappreciated artist working as a journalist. Sorry your friends couldn't jump the line because you forgot to RSVP. At least you were able to find a suitably classy and worthily sophisticated way to finish out your
I went to this party and I agree with the writer. The performances were set off in tiny rooms and more like peep shows.
Jonathan, there is one word to describe what is missing from DC Creative scene: DANGER.

When I was in ATL we had that...plenty of that. NYC? Shit...all you have to do is look at

DC needs DANGER - both in the form of scaring the shit out of people via uncomfortable art experiences, to the threat of physical harm only made desirable through the course of embarking on an adventure out one late night.

What would BORF do after all?

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.