Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Everybody, even me, knows that the Corcoran Gallery of Art's financial situation was much worse than they were letting on publicly. Their ability to get major exhibitions has slowed dramatically -- because, most people think, their physical plant is so bad that any artwork on loan is likely to be damaged! Their own collection has suffered as well (the stuff in storage, not on exhibit). Their building's HVAC system hasn't had an upgrade in 20 years, and their building needs a general refurbishment (which hasn't occured in 30 years). Repairs would cost at least $20 million, and maybe closer to $30 million.

Their art school is mediocre. I mean, it trains people to be artists well enough. But the professors are not oustanding artists, they have almost no good guest artist-teachers, and few of their pupils have gone on to earn critical praise.

Everyone, even me, knows that the Corcoran has been looking to partner with someone with money. There's been a lot of talk about a partnership with the University of Maryland School of Art, but no one believed the UMD thing was going anywhere. (Since when does a public university have big money to spend?)

But for the Corcoran to DONATE its building to George Washington University? That is something no one saw coming.

For the Corcoran to GIVE AWAY a $2 billion art collection to the National Gallery of Art? No one saw that coming. (The collection is probably worth much less than that, maybe closer to $250 million...)

Since the Corcoran is a nonprofit, it's hard to tell if its art school is solvent. I'm betting it is not, given the fees they charge.

I'm betting the Corcoran looked into selling their builidng, and discovered it would never sell given its location (too close to the White House) and the extensive renovation it needs.

I'm betting the Corcoran board felt that selling off the collection to raise funds was probably illegal. The museum would get censured by the Association of American Art Museums for doing that, which means they'd never get another outside exhibit ever again. I'm guessing the terms of donation for most of their art are either lost, or the terms say that the Corcoran may not sell the work. (Donate, yes. Sell, no.) With the worldwide depression in art prices, a fire sale would have looked appalling.

So, dissolution it was.

I'm not sure that the Corcoran board is well-run, and they may yet encounter backlash and legal difficulty. I'm wondering how this fits with their fiduciary duty to the nonprofit trust. But.....

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