Corcoran Gallery of Art Dissolution Leaves Thousands of Orphaned Artworks. Who Gets Them?

Hundreds of living artists may be left in the lurch.

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Bruce Nauman, SWEET SUITE SUBSTITUTE, (1968). Photo: Courtesy National Gallery of Art.
Betye Saar, Dat Ol' Black Magic, 1981, collage, image: 13 3/4 x 13 1/2 inches. National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (The Evans-Tibbs Collection, Gift of Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr.)
Betye Saar, Dat Ol' Black Magic, 1981, collage, image: 13 3/4 x 13 1/2 inches. National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (The Evans-Tibbs Collection, Gift of Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr.)
Marsden Hartley, Berlin Abstraction, 1914/1915 oil on canvas, framed: 39 3/4 x 33 1/2 x 2 1/4 in. National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (Museum purchase, Gallery Fund)
Marsden Hartley, Berlin Abstraction, 1914/1915 oil on canvas, framed: 39 3/4 x 33 1/2 x 2 1/4 in. National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Collection (Museum purchase, Gallery Fund)
Noah Purifoy, Untitled (Assemblage) (1967). Photo: Courtesy National Gallery of Art.

The fate of thousands of artworks from the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s collection remains undecided.

The National Gallery of Art has revealed that it acquired some 6,430 works from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which dissolved last year after a prolonged controversy, pleading poverty and overwhelming expenses to overhaul its building.

artnet News has learned that the acquisitions are from some 17,622 pieces, leaving the fate of over 11,000 works in the balance.

The acquisitions include 208 works of modern and contemporary art that constitute a bonanza, by any measure. Included in the remainder are 729 modern and contemporary examples that are in the custody of the National Gallery but whose fate remains undecided. Artnet News has requested an inventory of those works but has received no response.

According to a former staffer who spoke to artnet News on condition of anonymity, among the works from the collection not spoken for are pieces by Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Marisol, Dennis Oppenheim, Sam Gilliam, Thomas Chimes, and James Hyde. Meanwhile, we can confirm that the museum has acquired works by Richard Artschwager, Marsden Hartley, Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning, Bruce Nauman, Georgia O’Keeffe, Betye Saar, and Andy Warhol, some of which are illustrated here.

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The Corcoran Gallery.
Photo: Art Around, Laura Padgett/Flickr

Perhaps the largest work in limbo is a large movie theater-like installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, The Paradise Institute, acquired for the museum by then-curator Jonathan Binstock, now director of the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York, according to a 2004 article in the New York Times.

The list of new acquisitions, which spans over 40 pages in a document published today on the museum’s website, includes works by artists from A to Z, Anni Albers to Norman Zammitt. The lineup features works by giants like Richard Artschwager, John Chamberlain, Marsden Hartley, Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Bruce Nauman, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Andy Warhol.

Several former curators did not respond to interview requests to discuss the remaining works or what might happen to them.

 


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