Corcoran Breakup Gets Official Backing

The Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The controversial plan to dissolve the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, through a merger with the nearby National Gallery of Art and George Washington University (see artnet News report) received the backing of district attorney general Irvin B. Nathan this week, even as opponents of the plan continue efforts to thwart its implementation, reports the Washington Post.

A brief issued by Nathan’s office on Wednesday called the proposed merger the best way out of a bad situation: “the District supports [the reorganization] because [it] will allow the Corcoran’s assets to continue to be used in DC consistently with the charitable purposes to which they have been dedicated.” The office is responsible for regulating charities such as the Corcoran, and represents the city in the case, so Nathan’s support gives the Corcoran a major boost.

Opposition group Save the Corcoran contends that the plan would destroy the institution and violate the wishes of its founder, William W. Corcoran, and that other alternatives are still available. In order for the merger to pass, Judge Robert Okun must approve a revision of the institution’s original charter, established in 1869.

“The [Corcoran] trustees have not met their burden of proving that the Corcoran trust has become impracticable,” argues a brief submitted by the group’s legal team. “Nor have they established that the proposed dissolution is ‘as close as possible’ to the original terms and purposes of that trust, and that the Corcoran cannot survive—and thrive—as an independent institution.”

While the Corcoran argues that they would otherwise need to sell artwork to remain operational (a route also pursued by the Delaware Museum of Art and Virginia’s Maier Museum of Art), risking the institution’s American Alliance of Museums accreditation, Save the Corcoran remains unconvinced. The museum can always regain accreditation, they argue, but dissolving the Corcoran would be permanent, and leave hundreds unemployed (see artnet News report).

“If W.W. Corcoran were here today, would he say: Take everything I built, everything I collected, the building created under my trust, vaporize the school—and give it all away because the AAM won’t give me the seal of approval?” asked Save the Corcoran attorney Andrew Tulumello in an email to the Post.

City lawyers see things differently: “The District does not dismiss the potential consequences of the Corcoran’s loss of accreditation so easily. Save the Corcoran’s proposal is a short-term fix that will not alleviate the longer-term problems that the Corcoran faces.”

A public hearing on the issue will appear before Judge Okun in DC Superior Court at 2:30 this afternoon.

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