The Corcoran Gallery of Art trustees announced a new slate of officers yesterday, naming communications executive Robin Martin as chairman. Martin headed the yearlong search for the gallery's new director that led to the hiring of David Levy.
Martin succeeds Elinor Farquhar, who saw the gallery through the turbulent period following its decision to cancel an exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs in the summer of 1989. In a statement released yesterday, Farquhar referred to the past months as a period of "sustained effort and deep reflection on the mission of the Corcoran." She said the gallery has "a new sense of purpose and commitment."
Martin said yesterday that the cancellation of the Mapplethorpe show still reverberates at the institution. But he said the hiring of Levy and the adoption of a policy on freedom of expression are signs that the Corcoran is sensitive to issues of integrity. The freedom-of-expression policy states that the gallery will evaluate exhibits based on its own intellectual and artistic criteria rather than external considerations.
The Mapplethorpe debacle was "caused by a lack of policy within the Corcoran at the board level and at the staff level, which resulted in a decision being made in a vacuum. It was a reactive decision-making process," he said.
Asked whether he would now repudiate the cancellation, Martin replied: "I can't go back two years and relive that decision. When the decision to cancel the show was made, the time was past for timely, rational discussion of the issues. The forces that came into play basically made it a no-win situation." Asked whether the gallery would exhibit the show today, he said that the board and staff would apply its new policy and "act as a unified group."
Martin is president and chief executive of the Deer River Group, which owns radio stations in New England and cable systems in the South and provides consulting and investment banking services in the communications field.
The board also announced that Ronald D. Abramson, a trustee since 1989 and a partner at the law firm of Silverstein and Mullens, will serve as vice chairman. Robert Lehrman was named vice chairman for the museum; Laura P. Coughlin is vice chairman for the school. Other officers are Robert E. Freer Jr., secretary; Michael A. Wyatt, assistant secretary; F. David Fowler, treasurer; and Todd L. Kiplinger, assistant treasurer.