“I think it’s stupid,” said Philip Brookman, the Corcoran’s chief curator. “You would gut the collection. . . .The Corcoran would become ostracized from the community of museums.”
Reynolds says that a respected scholar, familiar with the collection, has pledged to consult on deaccessioning and has given assurances that such a sum could be raised without sacrificing great paintings. That scholar, reached by The Washington Post, declined to be identified because of other professional commitments.
Corcoran executives also object to Reynolds’s intention to deemphasize the museum in favor of the college. They say they seek a solution that will enhance both.
But a generation of Corcoran boards and executives has failed to crack the code of how to thrive in a town dominated by free, federally funded rivals. The annual deficit hit $7 million in 2011.
The shortfall would have been about $7 million again for the fiscal year that ended in June but for an infusion of $18.8 million from the sale of the adjacent parking lot for an office building. Instead of a deficit of $7 million, there was a surplus of $10.8 million. But at the current spending pace, the parking-lot money would be gone in less than two years.
Hopper and the board have resolved to fix the problem. But after more than two years of study, and consideration of selling the Beaux-Arts building that is its home, a solution remains elusive. A self-imposed deadline of mid-March to announce a way forward has passed. The next trustees meeting is April 3.
Reynolds’s self-positioning as fixer from the outside has perils and possibilities, museum authorities say.
“That kind of white knight coming in is a tricky situation,” Philbrick said. “To me, it gets away from the thing that I think has to happen [at the Corcoran], which is a core group of trustees has to step in and do the friend-raising that leads to fundraising in the long term.”
And yet, said Gary Vikan, executive director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, “it’s much better that this happen in full view of the public” so people are informed of potentially momentous changes afoot.
Reynolds, the son of famed sports and lifestyle photographer Hy Peskin (who changed his name to Brian Reynolds) pays himself $695,000 as president of the American Academy of Achievement, according to tax filings. The education foundation invites professional superstars — who have included former presidents, leading artists, Nobel laureates (and Post luminaries including Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee and the late Katharine Graham) — to meet high-achieving young people from around the world.