Anger and frustration on the part of Washington artists who feel neglected by the Corcoran surfaced last night when artists and museum officials met to talk it out. In fact, the anger in the Corcoran Auditorium was so bristling that even some of the artists in the audience of about 150 called aloud for those on the panel to quiet their outbursts.
"The forum wasn't the best idea," said Sam Gilliam, one of the most successful artists in Washington and one of the most vocal last night, "but it was worth doing. As one artist said earlier, the fact that Jane Livingston actually came to listen was a good sign."
Livingston, associate director of the Corcoran, along with director Peter Marzio and Clair List, curator of Washington art (whose job it is to visit studios of artists and to stage shows of Washington art), were on one side of the panel. On the other were artists Gilliam, Rockne Krebs and Leslie Kuter and journalist Bob Arnebeck. In the middle: attorney Ira Lowe. The main complaint, simply put, is that the Corcoran should examine the work of local artists more effectively and show more of that work.
There were many pointed exchanges between audience and panel. Artist Greg Hannan said the Corcoran has been "insular and enclosed." Referring to a recent weekend when artists' studios were open, he said, "I didn't see you, Ms. List."
"Did you call me, Mr. Hannan?" she countered.
"When it's been advertised all over town, it's your job to be there," Hannan said. "I've contacted you. You said to send slides [of my work.]"
"Did you send slides, Mr. Hannan?" List asked.
"No, because slides don't adequately represent my work," Hannan replied. "When we're all having open studios and you donht come, you're not doing your job."
At another point in the discussion, Marzio asked what would be a "regular mechanism for communication" and Gilliam hotly declared that Marzio had had nothing to say and, besides, there was already a list of demands that the artists had presented.
"I'd like to know what are the suggestions for exhibitions," said Marzio. "I will not be bullied."
"Nobody's bullying you, turkey," shot back Gilliam to some hisses from the audience and one artist's request to "Be quiet, Sam."
"I think there's a lack of communication between artists and the Corcoran," said Al Nodal, director of the Washington Project for the Arts, who was sitting in the audience. "I can understand why the living artists of Washington feel disenfranchised. At the same time, I sympathize with Peter and Jane. I think this is a real good start. I think the Corcoran might start with forming a committee of artists to advise them."
Livingston -- the main curator at the museum -- was questioned on her connection with the Washington artists. "I don't have as much contact with Washington artists as I used to," she said, "because I'm so busy. I hope to have more contact."
"Six years in Washington and only one time you visited a studio that Sam and I were involved with," said Krebs. "What are you doing?"
"I'm running an art museum," she replied.
Gilliam early on in the evening asked that the Corcoran appoint "three artist advisers" to its board and abolish the position of Washington curator. "Instead of the Washington curator selecting exhibitions," said Gilliam in an individual position paper, "all exhibitions would be open to relevant Washington artists" with the three artist advisers involved in the selection.
Krebs concluded to the audience, "We are interested in the Corcoran in a positive way. We're not trying to beat them over the head. In fact, we don't have anything to beat them over the head with. It is or feeling they're giving artists in the city a short shake. We know they can do better."
Marzio told the group that the Corcoran is a broad-based institution, focusing on historical American art, photography, Washington art, avant-garde art and international art. "We aren't going to appeal just to the deep, narrow base of the Washington community," he said after the forum, adding, "I think we should talk more. It would be nice if we could have a channel of constructive criticism."