Corcoran College of Art + Design and its Gallery of Art, once boasting a commitment to its three “C’s” – collection, college, community – will soon have none.
The prestigious Washington D.C. institution announced yesterday night that its college, buildings, and expansive, world-renowned collection will be divvied up between the National Gallery and George Washington University as Corcoran collapses under financial distress.
In an official statement, Corcoran laid out its proposed dismemberment: The Corcoran College of Art + Design will become part of the George Washington University, which will “maintain [Corcoran’s] distinct identity.” GWU will also acquire the gallery's landmark Beaux-Arts building near the white house (valued between $40-60 million). The Corcoran Gallery of Art, containing some 17,000 pieces in a collection worth an estimated $2 billion, will go to the National Museum.
The 145-year old institution is Washington’s oldest private art museum (older, also, than the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts). Its world-class collection is prized for its American and contemporary art, as well as European paintings, including works by Degas, Eggleston, Warhol, and Monet. Its college is the city’s only professional college of art and design, and while small with less than 700 students, can claim to have produced such prominent figures in American arts as David Lynch, Tim Gunn, Tara Donovan, and Frederick Hart.
The college and gallery have been in financial trouble for several years and tried last year to broker a merger with the University of Maryland, although that deal eventually fell through.
Peggy Loar, Interim President and Director of the Corcoran, said in a heartfelt statement that the deal would ensure Corcoran’s name and mission will live on.
“The Corcoran’s great cultural, educational and civic resources that are at the heart of this city will not only remain in Washington but will become stronger, more exciting and more widely accessible, in a way that stays centered on the Corcoran’s dedication to art and mission of encouraging American genius and opens the galleries free to all.”
Heartfelt, but not entirely true. The National Gallery will assume immediate control of Corcoran’s entire art collection. After a period of study, the National Gallery will choose what it can keep, which could be more than 50 percent of the collection, while the rest will be given to other galleries and museums across the country.
Washington Times’ Art Critic Philip Kennicott provided a bleak outlook on Corcoran’s claim to posterity after collapse, writing, “This is not a swallowing of the Corcoran — this is the end of the Corcoran and its final dismemberment.”
While a loss to the nation’s history, Kennicott agrees with Loar that the end of Corcoran can also be a boon to the collection and the city.
“The vast majority of people who visit Washington will never know the difference, and arguably will be better served by the new post-Corcoran arrangement . . . The liquidation of the Corcoran’s collection may bring individual works of art more exposure, both at the National Gallery and at whatever museums or institutions take in what the NGA doesn’t want.”
The three institutions have agreed to hammer out all the details of the merger by April 7.