Museums Controversies USA

Corcoran merger gets DC court approval

The National Gallery of Art will take over most of the institution’s collection, while George Washington University will take over the Beaux-Arts building and school

The Corcoran Gallery of Art

The controversial merger between the Corcoran Gallery of Art, George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art, all in Washington, DC, has received the green light from the district’s Superior Court. In a ruling on Monday 18 August, Judge Robert Okun called the decision “painful”, but concluded that it would be “even more painful to deny the relief requested and allow the Corcoran to face its likely demise”.

Under the terms of the agreement, first announced in February 2014, the beleaguered Corcoran will transfer its historic Beaux-Arts building and its College of Art + Design to George Washington University. The National Gallery of Art will take over a substantial portion of the Corcoran’s 17,000-work collection, which includes paintings by John Singer Sargent and Frederic Edwin Church as well as celebrated photography holdings. Around one-third of the Corcoran’s 465 employees stand to lose their jobs in the course of the merger.

In his ruling, Judge Okun acknowledged that the museum’s founder, the American philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran, “would not be pleased by this turn of events” because the merger “effectively dissolves the Corcoran as an independent identity”. But he decided that given the institution’s dire financial circumstances, “approval of the Trustees’ proposal is necessary”.

The decision comes as a disappointment to Save the Corcoran, a group of Corcoran employees, students, supporters and alumni who opposed the merger. In a statement on behalf of the coalition, the group’s lawyer reluctantly accepted the verdict. “While this is not our vision for the Corcoran, we received a full and fair trial and are grateful that we were given the opportunity to defend the legacy of one of the oldest and most beloved museums in the nation,” said Drew Tulumello of the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

The terms of the merger agreement are due to be carried out in the coming weeks, according to a joint statement from the Corcoran, George Washington University, and the National Gallery. Renovations on the Corcoran’s Beaux-Arts building will begin in October. Over the next year, curators from the Corcoran and the National Gallery will collaborate to decide which works will enter the latter’s collection. The remainder will be distributed to other museums around the country.

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22 Aug 14
14:58 CET


So sad. I lived in D.C. for 7 years and loved the Corcoran. I'm glad the art will be preserved for the public to see, though, and hope that the recipients of it will treat it with tender care -- and show it. There are some priceless treasures in the collection.

21 Aug 14
14:38 CET


This is not a merger but a dissolution of a 145 year-old, independent art institution. It's a sad day for Washington, DC and the art world.

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