Whoever decided to hold Cascade AIDS Project's annual "Art for Life" benefit at the Oregon Convention Center must've been smoking a bowl. It would be hard to imagine a tackier, more déclassé setting for a classy philanthropic event that in years past played oh-so-much better at venues such as Montgomery Park and the Wieden & Kennedy building. The bland-as-butter Convention Center seemed to blunt the edge of almost every aspect of this year's "Art for Life." The evening's band (Home Brew) was so aggressively mediocre, it made Huey Lewis and the News sound like the Ramones. The crowd was WASPier, lower-energy and more suburban than in the past. The art curation for the live and silent auctions proved anemic. And according to CAP's Special Events Manager Roma Peyser, this fundraiser's total take (just under $500,000) wound up being nearly $125,000 less than last year's.

Luckily, there were bright spots. The food was the best it's been in years—Artemis Catering provided the night's tastiest hors d'oeuvre, a saffron-chorizo risotto cake. The entertainment in the lobby was well-imagined: fabulous dancers from Conduit, dressed in billowing costumes, held court atop pedestals; a killer DJ (Barrett Paul) spun; and erstwhile Portlander, artist and "model" Rick Dinihanian, 57 (who appeared naked in Playgirl in 2004), luxuriated in a sumptuous bed—a hunky, living art installation.

PAM's Bruce Guenther narrated the live auction, where two pieces, Louis Bunce's I-5 and Anna Skibska's Blue, tied for top draw at $11,000 apiece. While many attendees felt that minimum bids at the silent auction were set too high and that the art as a whole was underwhelming, there were diamonds amid the coal: David Geiser's wondrous gold-leaf cube; Paige Saez's messy/ordered juxtaposition; Wid Chambers' digital landscape; Eugenia Pardue's red-and-gold fantasia; and Agnes Field's gorgeous Styrofoam transfiguration. Other highlights included H. Jannine Setter's jaunty, retro-cool photograph; the diffused abstraction of Benton Peugh; Rachael Allen's pocked and puckered Lovers; Beth John's haunting Hypophysis; and Michael L. Wilson's December, with its sexy shapes and yummy 1970s colors.

And finally, as mistress of ceremonies, glittery drag queen Poison Waters gave the occasion some much-needed sass and spunk.

For more information about Cascade AIDS Project, visit www.cascadeaids.org.