At the Corcoran, visitors contemplate the gallery’s possible last days


Decent size crowds, the sort of crowds that might have helped the Corcoran to survive had they been consistent over the years, roamed the various galleries at the Corcoran on July 26. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

These may or may not be the last days of the Corcoran Gallery of Art as we’ve known it for so long, but people are coming by anyway, the way you do, the last dance before the ballroom closes, the last drink at the bar you always loved but never really went to as often as you think you should have.

“It’s really sad,” says Yvonne Cooper, a sigh escaping, her shoulders hunching forward just a bit. She works nearby and has stopped by on a recent day for lunch at the museum’s Muse cafe with a friend. “I’ve come for different exhibitions — we’d always wait till the last week and then everyone would rush over — and I used to come for the jazz programs, just to take a break. And when they had the gospel brunch, I’d come for that.”

How it used to be. The impending demise; the dusty sense of something about to be lost. It’s a mood worthy of its own piece of art.

“We keep thinking this will be our last time,” says Katherine Spivey, nodding toward Deborah Aker, her lunch partner at the museum’s cafe. The pair meet for lunch several times a year, rarely venturing into the exhibit space, content to soak up the light, the old-fashioned air.

About 2,000 people a week are coming through these days, roughly the same as usual, but there’s a funereal air about the place. Unless a court challenge that begins Monday changes the landscape, the cash-strapped Corcoran plans on Aug. 12 to turn over its College of Art and Design to George Washington University and its artwork to the National Gallery of Art, whose curators are working to choose which pieces to keep. The gallery space will close Oct. 1 for renovation, with no firm date for reopening.


Bethany King gets her photo taken at the Corcoran by her friend Stefanie Binion. King is an art teacher and is concerned about the future of the museum. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

For now, though, the gift shop looks as if it died last year and nobody’s told it. Empty shelves and bookcases, a few scattered books and posters at 90 percent off.

People in the exhibits are making a last swing through, checking out “The Dance Class” by Edgar Degas, “Mao” by Andy Warhol.

Haunting electronic music flutters through the building, down the marble staircases, past “Into Bondage,” past “Voyager.” It’s from the “Loop,” a video and sound installation in the rotunda, mixing the music with moving, narrowly elongated loops of light — yellow, red, purple, green and orange. Walk through the room, it throws your shadow against the wall, making you (briefly) part of the exhibit.

Over in the American Art galleries, Tiffani Ferrantelli is contemplating the museum’s future.

“It’s such a magical way of displaying the art that I think it’s going to change if it gets split up,” she says. A Defense Department employee, she’s brought visiting family members for a last tour. “We had time to visit one museum today, and this was going to be it.”

Neely Tucker is a staff writer in the Sunday Magazine. He has reported from more than 50 countries around the world and from two dozen of these United States.
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