The Corcoran Gallery of Art, the oldest privately supported art museum in the US, has reached a preliminary agreement with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University (GWU) to take stewardship of its art collection, college and landmark Washington, DC building. Under the proposed three-way agreement, the Corcoran’s College of Art and Design, as well as its Beaux-Arts home near the White House, would fall to GWU.
The Corcoran’s collection of some 17,000 world-class artworks would go to the National Gallery, who will oversee exhibitions of modern and contemporary art in the building under the name Corcoran Contemporary, National Gallery of Art. They will also maintain a Corcoran Legacy Gallery, featuring works closely associated with the Corcoran’s history. The plan is that the National Gallery will absorb as much of the collection as possible, especially in areas in which it is lacking (such as the Corcoran’s excellent contemporary collection) and redistribute the rest to other museum collections, with a preference for DC area museums. But, as the Washington Post reports, “much of the collection could end up in Tennessee or Alaska.”
Most involved in the proposal seem to be trying to put a positive spin on it (The National Gallery is free and more accessible! GWU will pay for the building’s much-needed renovation! Most of the art will stay in DC!), yet most comments include a tinge of sadness at the loss of the Corcoran’s 140-year-old independent spirit. “There is no way to continue the Corcoran as we knew it or as we know it,” Peggy Loar, interim director and president of the Corcoran told the Washington Post. “That’s going to be the kernel of pain for some people.”