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D.C. Solution? Corcoran Reaches Out to the National Gallery and George Washington University

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An iconic American sculpture not represented in National Gallery’s collection:
Hiram Powers, “The Greek Slave,” modeled 1841-43, carved 1846
Corcoran Gallery of Art, gift of William Wilson Corcoran

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Trying to head off premature panic that the Corcoran will sell its Washington, D.C., historic home and decamp for more modern digs in the suburbs, the embattled institution issued this terse statement on Friday:

The Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design is in conversation with both the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. These activities are in keeping with the Corcoran Board’s stewardship and commitment to explore and secure potential sustainable options for the future of both the gallery and the college.

No further details will be released at this time.

Corcoran officials were more expansive, however, with the Washington Post‘s David Montgomery, emphasizing “repeatedly—and to a greater degree than in previous interviews since the spring—that one of their top goals is for the Corcoran to remain in its historic Beaux Arts home on 17th Street NW near the White House. At the same time, they added, the option of selling the building and
moving to a different location, perhaps in the suburbs, is not off the table,” Montgomery reported.

From the National Gallery of Art, Montgomery learned that Corcoran officials had met on Oct. 3 with that museum’s director, Earl “Rusty” Powell III, and its board president, Victoria Sant. No details of that discussion were released.

The best news in all this is that there appears to be no undue haste in exploring the various options and deciding on a future course. A partnership with (or takeover by) the larger institutions could be a win-win or a lose-lose, depending on this is structured. But at least the Corcoran’s glorious purpose-built facility would continue to be used for functions resembling those for which it was intended. The 138-year-old institution’s idiosyncratic identity, however, would likely be subsumed by the larger, more generic entities.

Merging the Corcoran’s collection with that of the NGA, were that to occur, would likely mean that a large number of works now on display, including many from the core collections formed by William Corcoran and William Clark, would be consigned to storage, at best, or to auction, at worst.

While many works, like the marble sculpture pictured at the top, could fill gaps in the National Gallery’s collection, it’s debatable whether it would welcome this c. 1803 portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, when it already has two other examples of the same image (one of which, c. 1803-05, is not currently on view, according to the NGA’s collections website).

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Gilbert Stuart, “George Washington,” c. 1803, Corcoran Gallery
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Roberta Faul-Zeitler, the Corcoran’s former head of public relations and marketing (who previously suggested that partnerships with other Washington institutions could be a desirable solution), wrote this about the possible NGA/GWU alliances on the Facebook page of Save the Corcoran, an ad hoc advocacy group:

Maybe here’s the best arrangement. NGA gets building and collection, adds to it the American works in their collection, including American masters of photography. College affiliates with GW so students can have interdisciplinary majors and go whole way to PhD.

What we still don’t know is whether the NGA or GWU will buy into any of this.

an ArtsJournal blog