The fight to save the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.,ended in defeat on Monday when Judge Robert D. Okun of the District of Columbia Superior Court ruled that the institution could continue its planned merger with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, both also in D.C. The Corcoran, one of the country’s oldest privately funded museums, will cede its collection of over 17,000 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century artworks to its much larger neighbor. The National Gallery will choose the best pieces for its own collection and distribute the remainder to other area public institutions.
The Corcoran College of Art + Design will be absorbed by George Washington University. The university agreed to take ownership of the Beaux-Arts building, down the block from the White House, which is in need of millions of dollars of repairs. Classes for the artstudents will continue to be held in the building. The National Gallery also agreed to preserve a “legacy gallery” there and will organize its own exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.
The ruling follows a battle between the museum’s board of trustees and Save the Corcoran, a group of museum donors, staff and students who banded together to stop the board’s move to dissolve the institution. The museum can now amend the terms of the deed of trust, drafted in 1869 by William W. Corcoran, banker and art collector. Save the Corcoran contends that the move is unjustified.According to the New York Times, however, the Corcoran has been running at a deficit for decades. In its fight to keep the Corcoran independent, Save the Corcoran cited the ill-fated 2005 plan to build a $170-million, Frank Gehry-designed addition to the building, which fell apart amid board disagreements, as the beginning of the end for the museum and art school. In its lawsuit, filed in early July, the opposing group accused the board of “financial mismanagement, corporate waste, and negligence in their duties.”
“This court finds it painful to issue an order that effectively dissolves the Corcoran as an independent entity,” Okun wrote following his ruling. “But this court would find it even more painful to deny the relief requested and allow the Corcoran to face its likely demise—the likely dissolution of the college, the closing of the gallery, and the dispersal of the gallery’s entire collection.”