A couple of weeks ago the Washington Post’s Jackie Trescott served up a warm, fuzzy profile of new Corcoran director Paul Greenhalgh. She reported that Greenhalgh wants to bring big crowds to the long-troubled Washington museum. The first exhibit he will bring is Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-1939, a show created by London’s V&A.
But here’s the slobberknocker: MAN has learned that the cost of bringing “Modernism” to Washington could be as high as $2 million. (A Corcoran spokesperson confirms that depending on exchange rates and the show’s final list of works, costs will be at least $1 million and as much as $2 million.) While it typically costs more to bring a show to Washington than to, say, Des Moines because of increased insurance costs, $2 million would be a mighty high budget. The Hirshhorn says picking up a travelling show generally costs them $250,000 to, at most, $500,000.
Not only is $2 million a jaw-dropping sum for a travelling exhibition but it’s extra-remarkable given the Corcoran’s well-publicized budget and staffing problems. As first reported on MAN, the Corcoran recently fired half of its curatorial staff. The museum needs over $40 million to address deferred maintenance. And the museum has its hand out to the District of Columbia government, hoping for $8 million to fix a leaky roof. [via]
There is no question that the Corcoran needs a splash, the kind that a travelling show such as Picturing the Banjo couldn’t provide. (The museum’s last stud exhibition was 2004’s Sally Mann show, which was recently featured in this documentary.) And while there are some real highlights in its current show of contemporary art from its collection (including the Truitts we mentioned on Monday, a naughty Lari Pittman and nice Morris Louis and Gene Davis), the Corc’s contemporary collection isn’t grand enough to be a draw.
Modernism might attract tourists and, better yet, it could bring locals back to the museum. For years the Corc’s membership revenues, a good indicator of local interest, have badly lagged its peer institutions. The little-known National Museum of Women in the Arts brings in more membership dollars than the Corc and the locally-beloved Phillips Collection earns nearly 10 times as much membership money as the Corc.
Certainly gimmicks such as the installation of J. Seward Johnson playground-level tableaux is partly to blame for the Corc’s local standing. But other important factors are beyond its control: The museum’s once attractive location, pretty much across the street from the White House, has become a liability in a post-9/11 security environment.
Will “Modernism” be a stunning, fabulous show that draws over 150,000 people? Possibly. It pretty much better be.