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Oh My, Look What The Corcoran Threw Away, And Other Problems

Hammer column in trash pile Summer 2012What do you suppose the picture here, at right, is? Can you read the writing? If so, you may be as shocked as I was, not to mention the person who sent this to me and the person who took the photo one day last June. The photographer was Linda Crocker Simmons, curator emerita of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.

It’s the column that recognized the contribution of Armand Hammer to the Corcoran, and apparently it stood near Hammer’s bust in the foyer for a decade.

Crocker Simmons, as I learned through an interlocutor, was walking on the public sidewalk and, curious to see what construction looked like on the Carr building next door to the Corcoran, spotted the stone Hammer column. It was on its side in the weeds on the platform at the top of the stairs to the main entrance on 17th street. Anyone who entered that way would have walked past it, and anyone familiar with the art world should know Hammer’s name — and any Corcoran staff member should have been “respectful of the symbolism of the piece,” Crocker Simmons thought.

Indeed, it’s hard not to interpret this throwaway as anything other than a lack of sensitivity to and disregard for donors, especially in the context of the Corcoran’s recent deaccessioning of the William A. Clark collection of carpets for $43.8 million.

We haven’t heard much about the Corcoran for several weeks now, not since the early April pact between the board and the University of Maryland. The preliminary pact between them means that they are exploring a broad partnership through which Maryland would share faculty, issue joint student degrees, cooperate in new course development, expand the student body and possibly share exhibition costs with the Corcoran.

The other day, Peggy Loar, hired to be Interim Director and President, sent a memo to Corcoran members saying that:

…we are making encouraging progress on our partnership discussions with the University of Maryland (UMD). As our goal is to create a sustainable future financially and operationally for our unique and historic institution, the Board remains extremely focused on our efforts to conclude our partnership arrangement.

The Corcoran/UMD Task Forces, as well as the Corcoran Board, Staff, and Faculty working groups are quite literally working around the clock to detail the specific program, content, and operational areas we will partner on. University officials, faculty and students have all visited for tours and presentations at the Corcoran, and we at the Corcoran have studied their curriculum offerings and programs towards the design of this unique partnership arrangement. These experiences have evolved into a creative dialogue that will play heavily into what we do together and how the Corcoran’s programs and creative teams will enhance UMD offerings on their campus, here at the Corcoran, and beyond.

To date, the Corcoran Working Groups continue to meet and will present final recommendations within the month. At the same time, the Corcoran/UMD Task Forces continue to meet to discuss strategic issues, while UMD and Corcoran Operational departments will present their recommendations on how the two institutions will achieve economies of scale. Our intent is to finish the facilities Master Plan for enhancing the technical capability of our environmental systems, complete the fundraising assessment plan, and agree on a set of recommendations to present to the Board of Trustees by the end of the summer.

Have you ever seen such non-information take so long to be delivered?

Worse, there’s not much there about the museum.

Loar has a lot on her hands, and I don’t want to be too harsh. The main culprit here remains the lame board.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Linda Crocker Simmons 


  1. Jim VanKirk says:

    I believe this is called “Making it up as you go.” UMD and the Corcoran have an agreement to agree on something at some future date if they can find agreement somewhere

  2. Chris Crosman says:

    Did anyone check to see if Hammer’s contributions are honored with a new plaque or signage in the building? The cylindrical pedestal(?) is pretty clunky and there are certainly other ways to call attention to patrons in ways that are possibly more elegant or fitting. Admittedly, tossing it on the lawn rather than in a dumpster is puzzling.

  3. Elizabeth Punsalan says:

    What a shocking disregard for a million dollar donation. Why should others donate to the Corcoran if this is what happens to the acknowledgement of a major gift? Sad, but the Corcoran Gallery of Art appears to be broken and the board is either unable or unwilling to fix it.

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