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Is The Corcoran Inching Toward A Solution?

It’s remarkable, in a way, that a three-sentence statement issued at 5 p.m. on Friday by the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design qualifies as good news — but it does. Here’s what it said:

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.

Bland, huh? But I take it — inferring volumes, perhaps — that the board of Corcoran, which in June said the place was in such dire straits financially that it might sell its beautiful building and move to the suburbs, is coming to its senses and realizing that it just can’t treat the Corcoran like a chess piece, moved to a “better” location in Alexandria, Va., where the board has looked for space. Or taken to Maryland. Or mismanaged into oblivion. That statement, which came a bit out of the blue, was necessary only because the board and museum executives were inept at fundraising and management.

That’s why I suggested a merger/takeover right then and there in June. Since then, there’ve been other developments, including the formation of a group called “Save the Corcoran,” which last Tuesday sent a nine-page letter (Letter_to_Corcoran_from_Gibson_Dunn) written by its lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher citing, in the group’s own words, “leadership failures including potential charter violations, corporate waste, potential conflicts of interest and fundraising collapse.” The letter demanded:

1. The Corcoran will end all corporate waste associated with an unlawful move outside of Washington, D.C., and publicly announce that the Corcoran will not move outside of the District;
2. The Corcoran will fill the three current vacancies on its Board of Trustees with nominees selected from the Save the Corcoran Coalition’s Advisory Committee (response requested by October 19).

Seems to me that the group, like the Corcoran board, is overplaying its hand, at least on #2.

On the other hand, a takeover of the Corcoran’s school by GW could be a good thing, especially if GWtakes full responsibility for managing the school and raising money for it. Make it like IFA at NYU.

The Gallery is another matter, and neither the Corcoran nor the NGA are talking about the content or dimensions of their discussions. The Corcoran gallery also needs better leadership and more funds, which the NGA can supply. And the NGA believes it needs more space. It could be a good match, even though the NGA may undergo its own transition in the not-too-distant future: Earl A. (Rusty) Powell III — the director since 1992 — turns 70 in 2013. 

Still, at this point, I’m still with my initial gut reaction — the Corcoran needs new hands at its helm. A merger with the NGA would be less disruptive than hiring a new director, sweeping out the in-over-their-heads Corcoran trustees, and finding many new deep-pocketed board members for the Corcoran.




  1. Linda Crocker Simmons says:

    The staff of the National Gallery knows the Corcoran Gallery well. A number including Franklin Kelly and Barbara Moore once worked in senior positions at the Corcoran. Their knowledge of American art and the Corcoran’s collection would make some sort of partnership/relationship with the National Gallery somewhat easier to achieve and beneficial to both institutions. One would grieve for the loss of the special institution-long relationship between Washington artists that goes back to the founder’s interests before, during and after he established the Gallery in 1869. The creation of the Corcoran School was one expression of his commitment to the arts and artists of Washington. But if this is the only solution that the current board and director can come to it is far superior to selling the building and moving the collection and college to another site in or out of the District of Columbia. One hopes that someone remembers that one of the Corcoran’s treasures – its archives – remains in off-site storage. I pray that this valuable record of 143 years of American art history finds a safe haven at the Archives of American Art, if not in the National Gallery of Art’s own Archive.

    • I couldn’t think of anyone more worthy of a trustee position than Linda Crocker Simmons. She has fought
      for the health and integrity of the Corcoran Gallery and School of Art for nearly 40 years. No one knows it better,
      no one cares as passionately, no one could ever serve it as well.


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