Student spring shows are a rite of passage in any art-school education. For many Washington area art programs, where gallery space is limited, thesis shows by graduating bachelor’s and master’s students can sometimes last less than a week. In the past, student shows at the Corcoran happened sequentially, with clusters of five or six students grouped by concentration, showing work for a few days in a smaller space — most recently in Gallery 31, the dedicated student exhibition space for the college.
The decision to alter the format was proposed two years ago by then-president Paul Greenhalgh, according to Armour. “It took great commitment on the part of the curators to find room in the exhibition schedule,” she says.
The costs associated with “Next” have not been determined, says Armour, but they’re significantly lower than fielding a show from outside the institution. Still, hanging a show costs the institution in terms of time and effort.
The Corcoran didn’t so much find room for the show as make room. “Next” absorbs the space formerly occupied, in part, by the “Washington Color and Light” exhibition. That show will go back up on the walls in June and continue its run through mid-August. “Next” will also make room for the next installment of “Now,” the other component of the Corcoran’s newfound emphasis on contemporary art.
Students and recent graduates play an important role in Washington’s art economy. They staff art-gallery desks and museum security posts and donate works to charity auctions for nonprofit art organizations. Commercial galleries have adopted programs to show their work and satiate collectors looking for rising stars (with low price tags). Conner Contemporary Art launched “Academy,” its annual summer survey of work by recent art graduates, in 2002; Irvine Contemporary Art on 14th Street NW followed suit in 2005 by introducing its annual “Introductions” program. To cull work for those shows, their organizers hurry from one student show to another all spring.
The Corcoran has made it possible for many more people to see its students’ work. Hanging the show under the standard of the Corcoran Gallery of Art — every spring, at least for the foreseeable future — ensures that hapless springtime tourists will find it. Hanging the work for a month, as opposed to a week, gives dedicated viewers time to seek it out.
Happily for the students, the timing of the student exhibition coincides with its spring gala on Friday. And on April 23, the Corcoran held a formal celebration for the students, their families and their friends. In typical Corcoran fashion, it was a regular ball, with more than 600 people in attendance, says Corcoran public relations manager Rachel Cothran.
Capps is a freelance writer.