The Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art and Design are no more. The Washington Post’s David Montgomery, whose reporting on the Corcoran saga has been excellent, has the story. While there are details to be worked out, the plan, in short, is this: The art is going to the National Gallery of Art, which will keep some of it and which will send much of it to other institutions. The school and building are going to Corcoran neighbor George Washington University. The National Gallery of Art will exhibit contemporary art and some Corcoran “legacy” material in GWU’s Corcoran building. I’ll save discussion of that arrangement for another time.
None of this is a surprise. The inevitability of the Corcoran’s demise was clear in 2008. It was even clearer in 2012 when the Corcoran’s latest round of financial woes became public. Instead of planning for a smooth transition into obsolescence, a series of truly awful Corcoran boards held on, frittering away cultural capital: both tens of millions of dollars and valuable real estate. When it comes to leadership, the Corcoran boards of the last decade are the rough non-profit equivalents of the boards that ran MCI and Enron in the for-profit sector. Like trustees at MCI and Enron, Corcoran trustees committed no crimes, but they numbly bumbled, doing much damage on the way down.
That’s not to say there weren’t Corcoran trustees who wanted to make a positive, meaningful difference. There were. Over the last half dozen years I’ve spoken with many of them. They felt like they were ignored by a series of board executives who didn’t want to address, let alone admit, the obvious.
There are still good people at the Corcoran, good curators and preparators and so on. I hope they stay in Washington. (Corcoran chief curator and photography expert Philip Brookman would be the most interesting curator in the National Gallery’s somnolent photo department.) They are among the best parts of the Corcoran’s legacy and Washington and its institutions would benefit from their wisdom, their experience and their institutional memory. They deserve better than their leaders provided. So did art and so did Washington.
[Image of the Corcoran via Flickr user Adam Fagen.]