In Brief

Met Envy Apparently Fueled National Gallery of Art’s Interest in Corcoran

by Mostafa Heddaya on July 31, 2014

1280px-The_Last_of_the_Buffalo

Albert Bierstadt, “The Last of the Buffalo” (c. 1888), from the collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (image via Wikipedia)

Buried in a Washington Post story about the court appearance of philanthropist Wayne Reynolds, a benefactor to the Corcoran Gallery opposed to its planned integration with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, is this gem (emphasis added):

Reynolds cheerfully told many tales out of school, including how Dodge Thompson, chief of exhibitions at the NGA [National Gallery of Art], helped introduce Reynolds to Corcoran leaders at the elegant Italian restaurant Fiola in late 2012. According to Reynolds, Thompson was already angling for the Corcoran’s distinguished collection of 19th-century American art so that “his collection at the National Gallery would be greater than the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

“That’s laudable for a curator,” Reynolds­ said. But “doing the right things for the right reasons is good, too.”

Thompson, who was in the courtroom, said afterward that he had no comment.

The Corcoran’s collection of 19th-century American art does indeed encompass iconic works by John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Gilbert Stuart, Albert Bierstadt, and Frederic Edwin Church, among others. Whether or not that makes it the equal of the Met’s, or if the National Gallery will succeed in assimilating it into their collection, remains to be seen.

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  • Noah G. Hoffman

    The NGA needs the Corcoran for reasons other than the trophies it would acquire. The NGA is involved in a major scandal created by nearly 30 years of disastrous stewardship of the 800 plus Rothkos donated by the Rothko Foundation. It’s conceivable that the scandal could even result in the revocation of the historic gift which was suspiciously omitted from the 2013 book on J. Carter Brown by Neil Harris. The NGA had editorial authority. I believe this omission was in anticipation of a Rothko gift revocation and let the NGA revise its history which now includes seven years of censorship of the ethno historic Rothko revision known as “The Mark Rothko Southwest History Project.” The NGA is solely dependent on federal funds for its operating budget and a major scandal including possible civil rights violations, could be a death knell for the NGA and might lead to them needing their own savior. The Corcoran merger kicked into high gear after the NGA’s attempt to merge with MOCA failed. I have not been a party to any litigation though for years, I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to collaborate with the NGA on the Rothko revision.

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