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Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington's oldest private art museum, is ending

Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington's oldest private art museum, will end
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Washington's historic Corcoran Gallery of Art, the city's oldest private art museum, will cease to exist as an independent institution, the 145-year-old museum announced Feb. 19.

The key aspects of the Corcoran, one of America's oldest art museums, will be taken over by Washington's National Gallery of Art and The George Washington University, the museum said in a statement.

This resolves a five-year controversy about the fate of the debt-ridden museum.

The Corcoran would become a part of The George Washington University (GW), which would also operate the Corcoran College of Art and Design; maintain its distinct identity; and assume ownership of, and responsibility for, the Corcoran's magnificent 117-year-old landmark Beaux-Arts building.

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) would organize and present exhibitions of modern and contemporary art within the building under the name "Corcoran Contemporary, National Gallery of Art".

The NGA would also maintain and program a "Corcoran Legacy Gallery" within the building, displaying a selection of works from the almost 17,000-piece collection that are closely identified with the museum.

Museum entry will be free, the statement added. Its current admission charge is $10 for adults.

Some of the museum's best-known holdings include:

The National Gallery will acquire a large amount of the collection at no charge. The remaining works will be given to other museums within Washington.

The Corcoran's 1897 building, near the White House, will be given free to GW. The building, designed as a museum, needs an estimated $100 million in repairs. It is a dream of a museum, with natural light filtering down from the 24-foot-high glass ceiling and 38-foot-high inner skylight into spacious rooms.

The Corcoran said the "proposed collaboration that would safeguard and increase access to the Corcoran's iconic collection as a resource for the public in Washington, DC; maintain the historic Corcoran building as the renovated showplace for an important new program of exhibitions of modern and contemporary art; and strengthen and elevate the Corcoran College and its programs."

National Gallery director Earl A. Powell III said in the statement, "All of us at the National Gallery of Art are excited at the prospect of working with the Corcoran and George Washington University in a unique collaboration that ensures the Corcoran legacy, keeps the core collection in the nation's capital and offers great opportunities for exhibitions of contemporary art and programming."

GW President Steven Knapp said in the statement, "The George Washington University will work with the Corcoran to create a world-class arts education program in close affiliation with the National Gallery of Art. Such a program, situated in this iconic Washington landmark, will offer unparalleled opportunities for students and scholars, and provide a powerful new focus for the arts in the heart of the nation's capital."

Plans for the museum have made headlines ever since the 1999 selection of Frank Gehry to design an addition to the Beaux-Arts landmark building. After about five years of trying to raise money for the addition, the museum abandoned the plan.

The most controversial proposal, in 2012, was to sell the building. That's "nothing short of cultural vandalism" wrote Philip Kennicott, art and architecture critic for "The Washington Post".

The museum is named for the collector and benefactor William Wilson Corcoran, co-founder of Washington's Riggs Bank. The current building, designed by Ernest Flagg to house the collection that had outgrown its original building, a French Second Empire structure designed by James Renwick, Jr. and now named for him. The Renwick Gallery, now part of the Smithsonian, is closed for extensive renovation.

Corcoran wanted his museum to be "dedicated to art and used solely for the purpose of encouraging the American genius."

For more info: Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design,, 500 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC., 202-639-1700.

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