Court Battle Rages Over Corcoran Gallery’s Fate

The Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The battle between Save the Corcoran and the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design in Washington, DC, hit the District of Columbia Superior Court on Wednesday, with colorful testimony and a heated debate over the struggling museum’s future, reports the Washington Post and the New York Times.

There’s no question that the Corcoran is beset with financial woes. But, as the museum and art school seeks legal permission to merge with the nearby National Gallery of Art and George Washington University by altering its original charter (see artnet News article), opponents of the plan, which would essentially dissolve the institution, argue that Corcoran leaders have not done enough to salvage the museum’s finances before turning to such a radical solution (also reported by artnet News).

A 2008 study from a consultant hired by the Corcoran found “that something was broken with fund-raising at the board level,” Andrew S. Tulumello, a lawyer representing Save the Corcoran, told the court. He argued that the museum trustees have long operated as if the Corcoran had no future, and presented a list of potential names to join a new Corcoran board.

Tulumello relied heavily on philanthropist Wayne Reynolds, who offered what the Washington Post described as “a rollicking and highly critical narrative account of his interactions with gallery leadership” during his testimony. Reynolds expressed his desire to take control of the struggling institution, promising that “within 18 months of becoming chairman of the Corcoran, the Corcoran will start making money.”

In contrast, current museum chairman Harry F. Hopper III described the institution’s well-known fundraising problems, which were exacerbated by the recession, as a symptom of the gallery’s troubles, rather than their cause. The museum argues that it has only been able to stay afloat by putting off making essential repairs to the Corcoran’s historic, but deteriorating building.

The case, originally expected to conclude today, will continue into next week.

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