The D.C. Docent

It’s the End of The Corcoran As We Know It, and I Don’t Feel Fine

I’ve been struggling with what to say about the Wednesday announcement from The Corcoran Gallery of Art that it will cease to exist and it’s respective parts will be subsumed by the George Washington University and the National Gallery of Art. Part of the reason I’ve been having such a hard time with this, is because I am a docent there.

I found out about the decision much in the same way most others did…through an end-of-the-day email from The Corcoran saying, by the way, here’s a letter from Peggy Loar on what’s happening to us. By the time they sent the email, I already knew because I had read about it in The Washington Post and in Facebook posts (Corcoran Curator Sarah Cash’s post was probably the best one I read). From what I understand, even staff weren’t told before the Post article came out. This is the type of behavior that has become emblematic of what the Wall Street Journal described as “mismanagement on a near-epic scale.”

The demise of one of America’s oldest museums, and the first museum in this country to focus exclusively on collecting contemporary American art, is a catastrophic event for the nation, but more so for the District of Columbia and the local arts community. No other museum in Washington has had an impact on the arts community of this city like the Corcoran has had. Almost every single person I know who is an artist, a gallerist, a collector, a patron, or any other member of the local arts community has a unique relationship with the Corcoran and its school. There is no other Washington museum that can claim the same unique relationship with DC artists; not the Phillips, not the Kreeger, not the National Gallery of Art and least of all the Smithsonian.

The DC arts community loses the most by the dissolution of the museum as we know it, the subsuming of the school and the inevitable scattering of the collection. I have loved every moment of being a docent at The Corcoran and love the collection in a very personal way. When the Corcoran took down George Bellows’ 42 Kids to loan to the NGA for it’s Bellows exhibit last year I missed it so much; I would walk by where it used to hang and wish it was there. But I knew that it would be back, and when I saw it as part of the NGA exhibit (which was amazing) I was so happy to see it! It was like a visit with an old friend, and I loved seeing it in the context of the rest of Bellows’ works, but I also loved the fact that as the exhibit wound-down, I knew it would be returning to The Corcoran. When the Corcoran rehung the American collection last year, 42 Kids was back in the galleries, in a new spot, given better lighting, placement and prominence.

There are so many pieces in the Corcoran’s collection I have grown to love in peculiar ways, whether it’s the showstopper pieces like Frederic Church’s Niagara, Singer Sargent’s En Route Pour La Peche, Joan Mitchell’s Salut Tomor Hopper’s Ground Swell. Or quieter pieces like Richard Norris Brooke’s A Pastoral Visit, Jean Chardin’s Scullery Maid, Robert Mangold’s Five-Color Frame or Thomas Cole’s Departure and Return. William Wilson Corcoran collected works that were contemporary for their time, and that philosophy drove the earliest inklings he had for his collection and the museum he envisioned. He was bold in that way for his time, collecting American contemporary artists when everyone else was still obsessed with Europe.

Boldness and vision were at the core of the Corcoran’s founding, but the mismanagement of it left room for neither, or rather the lack of both contributed to the mismanagement. Real leadership is about combining vision with execution, something that the Corcoran in these last two decades never seemed to be able to achieve.

There is more to say, and more to be written on this matter. I won’t try to fit it all into a blog post here, but I felt that I needed to say something now, today. I’ve always kept the fact that I was a docent at the Corcoran anonymous, but this latest development was too much for me to continue staying silent. This heartache is real.

Nordic Lights: They Had Me at Lite-Brite

The Phillips Collection has plenty of enticing things they offer when they put together events, but telling me that I can make my own Lite-Brite masterpiece??? YOU BETTER NOT BE JOKING PHILLIPS!!!

This Thursday, Phillips After 5 is gonna take you Nordic—-that means simulated aurora borealis, a light show, industrial design, Olafur Eliasson, regional beers and cheeses and more. Oh yeah, and electro-acoustic jazz and a theremin. A THEREMIN. When was the last time you heard one of those played live?

If this event isn’t awesome, I am going to be so bummed out, because if you’ve got Lite-Brites, beers, a northern lights light show, a theremin and art and you can’t make it cool, you’ve got a real problem.

Nordic Lights is this Thursday, February 6, 2014 from 5-8:30pm. Reservations strongly advised. $12; $10 for students as well as visitors 62 and over. Members always admitted free, no reservation needed.

Your Sunday Instruction: See Van Gogh, Catch a Buzz, Buy Some Records

This is your Sunday. This is your plan of action:

1. See Van Gogh - The Van Gogh exhibit Repetitions at The Phillips Collection closes on Groundhog Day/Super Bowl Sunday (February 2) and I’m pretty sure you already know that visiting a high profile exhibit on the last weekend it’s open is always a bad idea, so this Sunday is your somewhat reasonable last chance.

2. Catch a Buzz - Stroll on over to Filter coffeehouse (a few blocks away from the Phillips) and grab an espresso pick me up or my favorite: the “Flat White.”

3. See Van Gogh, Again - Get your caffeinated self on the Metro and head over to the National Gallery of Art and take a look-see at what may have been Van Gogh’s last painting: Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890.

4. Buy Some Records -  Post Van Gogh, walk over to Penn Social for the 5th Annual DC Record Fair. Live DJs all afternoon and over 40 record dealers.

Sounds like a full day to me…

Ruby Anniversary: AAC Celebrates This Saturday

40 years is a long time to keep anything going, be it a relationship, a habit, a collection, or in this case, an arts program. This Saturday, Arlington Arts Center opens CSA: Forty Years of Community-Sourced Art which surveys the work and careers of some of DC’s favorite artists who were incubated by AAC.

Sometimes I feel like AAC is an unsung hero of the local art scene; it’s actually a revelation to me that they’ve been doing this so long! But looking at the careers of exhibiting artists like Ken Ashton, J.J. McCracken, Nikki Painter, Erik Thor Sandberg and Foon Sham and you know they gotta be doing something right.

CSA: Forty Years of Community-Sourced Art opens this Saturday, January 25, 2014 with reception from 6-9pm. Exhibit runs through April 13, 2014. Arlington Arts Center is located at 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA.

You Are Not Alone! Balancing Creativity with Everything Else at The Hirshhorn Tonight

Finding any kind of balance in life is a challenge, but balancing creative output with “other” always seems especially tough. Tonight, hear how other artists try to manage it at the panel "Living & Sustaining a Creative Life" which is also the name of a new collection of essays by 40 practicing artists and edited by Sharon Louden. Co-panelists include local artists Patrick McDonough and Jeff Spaulding.

Also of note is the co-sponsorship of this event by Curator’s Office and American University’s Studio Art Program. Curator’s Office, sans permanent space, will be doing more programming and collaborative work this year, and this first foray of 2014 may be a good barometer of what to expect in the next year.

"Living & Sustaining a Creative Life" begins at 7pm on Thursday, January 23, 2014 at The Hirshhorn’s Ring Auditorium. Event is free but get there early as it’s first come, first served.

WCP: D.C.’s Year in Art Galleries: Woof

ICYMI: Kriston Capps’ redux on the DC gallery scene, several of last year’s losses of physical gallery space (Civilian Art Projects, Contemporary Wing and Curator’s Office) —- although the galleries themselves remain active, and more.

2014 will be an interesting year for DC’s gallery scene for sure. Also, I plan on making some new changes/adjustments as well, so stay tuned;)