Now the Corcoran once again is embarked on the interrupted endeavor of reinvention, refocusing and refinancing.
Much of the leadership is new. Thirteen of the 15 trustees joined the board after the Gehry flop. Bollerer is the second gallery director since Levy left, and, at 70, he plans to retire this year.
The new crowd is contemplating the most dramatic — skeptics say self-destructive — solution of all to the riddle of rethinking the Corcoran.
“The destiny of the Corcoran should not turn on the building it sits in, but on what it does,” said Harry Hopper, chairman of the trustees.
To Hopper, a venture capitalist and contemporary art collector who joined the board in 2005, the Corcoran’s identity crisis dates to 1937 and the founding of the National Gallery, while its credibility crisis has been compounded by the misadventures of 1989 and 2005.
“I would say the Corcoran’s life changed when Paul Mellon agreed to fund and drive the National Gallery to a different level and the Corcoran didn’t really respond to or understand that for decades,” Hopper said. “It hasn’t presented a crisp and clear position in the cultural marketplace. We’re working hard to change that.”
The board voted June 4 simply to consider selling the building and relocating, but Hopper says preliminary estimates suggest it would be significantly cheaper to go rather than stay. However, he would not disclose the estimated profit on selling the building nor the potential cost of developing new space elsewhere.
The Corcoran has received multiple offers, according to gallery officials who would not identify the buyers. The gallery is hiring brokers to sift the offers and scout relocation options.
“And at the same time, we’re open to other alternatives,” Hopper said. “For example, we have had partnership and joint venture discussions, and we remain open to those.”
He declined to say what other institutions participated in those discussions.
He added: “If a funding alternative reveals itself that takes us on a path to stay in the building, we would love that.”
Weighing relocation is just one piece of the puzzle. The board’s contemplated solution to the Corcoran’s identity crisis is to focus the mission more emphatically on education. What this means in practice remains to be seen, but Hopper said it could be accomplished more easily in a larger, more flexible space.