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The Sadness of the Corcoran’s Final Throes

CorcoranWhile I was gone, the Corcoran Gallery of Art issued its own obituary and — once again — managed to screw it up. It was only last April that the Corcoran formed an alliance with the University of Maryland to explore a partnership to preserve the school and gallery as one entity, but in the new release — made public last Wednesday — it doesn’t even mention that attempted “solution.”

According to Washingtonian, despite meetings between U-Md. officials and representatives of the Corcoran “as recently as two weeks ago to continue hammering out the details of an arrangement” between the two institutions, U-Md. learned of the new plan from a phone call only moments before the statement was issued. Read the president’s statement and you’ll see just how much work U-Md. put into this effort, now all a waste.

I’ve covered corporate takeovers in which the loser got more notice than that — despite market implications. The lack of basic courtesy by the Corcoran board and staff, if those reports are correct, is astounding.

Now onto the real issue: is the new deal sensible? (If you have not already read the details — the collection goes to the National Gallery of Art, the school to George Washington University, etc. — can read them in the Corcoran’s press release.)  Given the poor and often total lack of management skill at the Corcoran, I say yes, with regret. I would have liked the Corcoran to remain an independent entity, with an engaged and committed board, one that would step up with contributions — which is part of their duty. But that was not in the cards. The fact that trustees let the Corcoran deteriorate so much before going public speaks volumes.

It has been painful to watch the Corcoran’s struggles. Every museum trustee should familiarize him- or herself with the museum’s decline, and make sure that he or she is not going to let it happen at their institution. And directors everywhere, working through the board chair, should encourage discussion about it.


  1. I was in Washington DC last week, just two days before the announcement, and having heard nothing recently about what was happening in their epic death struggle, I went to the Corcoran to see the pictures. The pictures were hung salon style, three and four high, shoulder to shoulder and unlit. The place was so gloomy and depressing that even Frederic Church’s Niagara and John Singer Sargent’s Mme. Pailleron looked insignificant. There were very few people in the galleries; it was almost empty. We breezed through and were glad to leave.

    When I read that the NGA was going to take over the management of the Corcoran, I could feel a great relief. It is enough already with this excruciatingly long and tawdry saga. Everyone should sober up, dry their eyes and be jubilant that this nonsense is finally over; I bet William Corcoran has also long since made his piece with it and such a fitting conclusion, too. Niagara, Mme. Pailleron and the Indian on the white horse rampant are also ecstatic. They are going to be returned to their former glory in their new surroundings.

  2. Jim VanKirk says:

    Hmmmm, do you think they knew just how bad it was when they hired their most recent director? A man with perfect collapse experience.

  3. Josh Reynolds says:

    I guess this tells us that trustees are not what they used to be, at least not in D.C.

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