Seeing and being seen at the BMA wingding


More than a thousand people attended last night's opening of the New Wing for Modern Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Many of the first-nighters were treated to something old before something new. Museum director Arnold Lehman and Connie Caplan, chair of the museum's board of trustees and a major contributor to the new wing, received guests in a gallery filled with works by the old masters. Then guests were welcomed to the world of contemporary art by BMA trustees and dinner co-chairs Sue Cohen and Frank Burch.

It was an evening to see and be seen. Elegantly clad guests, sipping champagne and nibbling hors d'oeuvres, were overheard saying they couldn't believe Baltimore finally has such a wonderful place to show contemporary art.

It was a two-tiered opening, and the early birds, about 600 guests who paid $300 a head, began arriving at 5:30 p.m. to enjoy cocktails and a look at the artwork before dinner was served at 7:30 p.m.

Gail Kaplan and the Classic Catering People got the nod to prepare the feast. According to Kaplan, museum curator Brenda Richardson not only orchestrated what went into the new wing galleries, she also OK'd every morsel prepared for the guests. The entree of chilled steamed baby lobster, flown in from Maine, was a hit with party-goers. And that's not all that was flown in for the occasion.

Carol Westerlund, from Larkspur's floral design company, did a fabulous job designing 5-foot-tall chrome centerpieces topped with dishes of flowers in primary colors. Some of the materials she for decorations throughout the museum were shipped from Florida and California.

Guests included film producer John Waters, also a museum trustee. Waters said he has liked modern art since he was 7 years old, and one of the reasons was because no one else could stand it. He added that Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup cans "changed the world of art, much like the Beatles put Motown out of business." On Waters' arm was his longtime casting director, Pat Moran.

The new wing brought mixed reactions from guests, but I was amazed to see that Carolyn and Richard Donkervoet -- he's a trustee -- were moved to tears when they walked into the Caplan Family Gallery, which is filled with Andy Warhol paintings.

Other first-nighters were Gail and Jim Riepe -- he's a former chairman of the BMA board of trustees, and both are gallery donors; Ileana Sonnabend, New York art dealer and a major lender of artwork to the BMA; Marti Head, a contributor to the museum, who tells me she's moving to Vail, Colo.; Charlie Albert, Piper & Marbury lawyer; Baltimore Police Commissioner Tom Frazier and his wife, Debbie, who were guests of Piper & Marbury.

Mayor Kurt Schmoke and his wife, Patricia, sat with Connie Caplan and New York artist Eric Fischl (who has several paintings in the new wing), and his wife, April Gornik.

Other faces in the crowd were James Dart, chief architect for the new wing; Edward and Janet Dunn -- he's president of the Mercantile Bank, and she's a BMA trustee; Shelly and Vincent Fremont -- he's with the Warhol Foundation; Louise and Alan Hoblitzell, museum trustees; Judge Edgar Silver and his wife, Anne -- he's on the museum's legislative committee; Bud Meyerhoff, a Baltimore philanthropist, and Rheda Becker -- she's with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; and Marsha and Bill Jews, he's CEO of Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Maryland.

About 400 people opted for the $25 opening-night package and arrived at 10 p.m. for dessert, dancing and a chance to see the new wing.

All proceeds from the evening's festivities will benefit the BMA's modern-contemporary art programs.

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