DC’s Defunct Corcoran Gallery Announces the New Homes for Over 10,000 Works of Art

The Corcoran has decided who gets art from its $1 billion collection.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art. Photo courtesy of Mr.TinDC/Flickr.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art. Photo courtesy of Mr.TinDC/Flickr.

The collection of Washington, DC’s shuttered Corcoran Gallery of Art won’t be going far from home. On Monday, four years after the gallery was abruptly closed, trustees of the institution announced how more than 10,000 objects from its original 19,493-object, $1 billion trove will be distributed. To best honor the legacy of the Corcoran, 99.4 percent of the collection will remain in DC.

This week’s massive giveaway—none of the work is being sold—includes paintings by Sam Gilliam, Joan Mitchell, William Merritt Chase, and Helen Frankenthaler; photographs by Ansel Adams, Sally Mann, Dorothea Lange, Julia Margaret Cameron, Eadweard Muybridge, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, and Garry Winogrand; sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, Marisol, Nikki de Saint Phalle, and Kiki Smith; and prints by Honoré Daumier, Joseph Goldyne, and George Biddle.

Helen Frankenthaler, <em>Hurricane Flag</em> (1969). This painting is being donated by the Corcoran to the Kreeger Museum. Courtesy of the Corcoran.

Helen Frankenthaler, Hurricane Flag (1969). This painting is being donated by the Corcoran to the Kreeger Museum. Courtesy of the Corcoran.

In 2014, facing insurmountable financial difficulties and following a contentious court battle, the Corcoran’s board arranged a takeover from George Washington University, which absorbed the institution’s school, building, and endowment, and the National Gallery of Art, which had first pick from the collection.

The NGA, founded in 1869 and known for supporting and collecting the work of living American artists, underwent a careful examination and inventory of the museum’s collection, ultimately adding 8,631 works to its own collection from the Corcoran, bolstering its contemporary art, photography, and American painting holdings with works by the likes of Jenny Holzer, Cy Twombly, and Albert Bierstadt. In 2016, the NGA released a detailed inventory of the remaining 10,862 objects, inviting DC institutions to look through and put together their wish lists.

Sally Mann, from the "Calakmul" series (1999). Works by Mann, who had her first solo show at the Corcoran, and received an honorary doctorate from the institution, are being donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and George Washington University by the Corcoran. Photo courtesy of the Corcoran.

Sally Mann, from the “Calakmul” series (1999). Works by Mann, who had her first solo show at the Corcoran, and received an honorary doctorate from the institution, are being donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and George Washington University by the Corcoran. Photo courtesy of the Corcoran.

Those requests were reviewed by a panel of independent curators, with the Corcoran board making the final decisions based on the curators’ recommendations. Every institution that requested work is receiving a donation.

The vast majority of the collection, close to 9,000 pieces, will go to the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center. Museum director and curators told the Washington Post that the acquisition was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

An additional 21 institutions are also getting a piece of the Corcoran pie. The list of beneficiaries includes universities such as Georgetown and Howard; museums such as the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and eight branches of the Smithsonian; and even the Supreme Court of the United States, which will receive a painting of Chief Justice John Marshall by Robert Matthew Sully. Spreading out the Corcoran collection means that more of it will be on display, making it more accessible to the general public.

Gordon Parks, <em>Love Petals</em> (1993). This photograph is being donated by the Corcoran to the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Photo courtesy of the Corcoran.

Gordon Parks, Love Petals (1993). This photograph is being donated by the Corcoran to the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Photo courtesy of the Corcoran.

“We are extremely pleased to distribute the Corcoran collection to so many worthy institutions across the city,” Corcoran board of trustees chairman Harry Hopper said in a statement. “The Corcoran legacy is threefold: The school, which continues operation as part of The George Washington University, educating future generations of artists; the building, which is getting the much-needed repairs and renovation to preserve it for the future; and the Corcoran art collection, which remains in Washington to be exhibited across the city for generations to come.”

As for the small selection of works that will leave DC, the majority are heading to the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, which is being given a selection of lace pieces and terracotta sculptures.


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