Now that the deal between the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University is signed and sealed, the first change in operations became apparent Friday:
Admission to the Corcoran now is free.
Adults used to pay $10 to enter — a contributing factor to the Corcoran’s inability to keep up with so many government-subsidized competitors in town, where admission is gratis. One of those competitors has been the National Gallery. With the signing of the deal Thursday, custody of the Corcoran’s art has been transferred to the NGA, and NGA-style free admission applies. (The NGA will decide in the coming year how much of that art it will actually keep and formally deposit in its collection; the rest will be distributed to other institutions, with a priority on keeping the art in the city.)
The new policy provides a rare, but temporary, chance to enjoy the Corcoran as we have known it for 145 years without digging into your pocket. The exhibit space will close Oct. 1. It will remain closed for an unspecified period while the NGA renovates the second-floor galleries. On reopening, that portion of the building will include a Legacy Gallery with key works from the Corcoran collection, plus special exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. Under the new configuration, the total space devoted to regular public exhibitions of art in the building will be less than 40 percent of the current gallery layout.
Corcoran founder William W. Corcoran originally insisted in 1869 that the gallery be open for free at least two days a week. That proved impossible for much of the Corcoran’s history, as ticket sales were an important revenue stream. Still, at various periods over decades, the Corcoran experimented with total free admission, subsidized by donors, or with special free days.
The gallery is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Corcoran attracted 96,781 visitors during the fiscal year that just ended June 30. It will be interesting to see if free admission, coupled with the last chance to see the Corcoran as it has been, causes of boom of gallery-goers to the landmark building on 17th Street NW near the White House.