Another Museum Mulls Pulling Up Stakes – Wall Street Journal

In early June, the Washington City Paper broke news of the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s potential move from its landmarked home at 17th Street and New York Avenue Northwest. News of the Board of Trustees’ proposed sale of the 1897 Beaux Arts building sparked immediate controversy, widespread condemnation, and the formation of the Save the Corcoran Coalition. This is not the first time the institution has come under fire. In 2009 the Corcoran hired CFO Fred Bollerer, a venture capitalist with no museum experience. While in the early 2000s, a planned Frank Gehry-designed addition was nixed due to an inability to raise funds. An article published in The Wall Street Journal, excerpted below, provides an overview of the financial situation, a brief history of the Corcoran, arguing for a reconsideration and reshaping of the institution’s mission.

“In recent years the museum has been plagued by declining attendance and a persistent, seven-figure budget deficit. But according to officials there the most serious problem is the building, an 1897 Beaux Arts structure on Seventeenth Street N.W., a short walk from the White House. It has room to display only about 3% of the collection (on average, museums can show about 6%) and by the most recent estimate needs about $100 million in renovations. […]

That’s an undeniably tough nut. Still, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that what the relocation and Gehry plans have in common is the delusion that in museums, architecture is destiny. Ever since the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum opened a satellite in Bilbao, Spain, in 1997 designed by Mr. Gehry, museum boards around the U.S. have come to believe that all will be well if they can just hitch their wagons to a starchitect. […]

Yet success, defined as building audiences, attracting support and making your institution part of the conversation, comes not through architecture but programming, primarily exhibitions and acquisitions. And this is where the Corcoran has fallen down. In a town of some dozen art museums, it has never been able to project a clear sense of its own identity, of what it can offer the museum-going public that no other institution can.”

SOURCE: Eric Gibson, “Another Museum Mulls Pulling Up Stakes,” The Wall Street Journal (June 12, 2012).