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The American University Museum is expanding its focus on Washington artists, positioning itself as a research center for D.C. art thanks to a substantial new gift. The study gallery, as the museum director refers to it, will support historic and thematic exhibitions on local art and artists as well as films, lectures, and other programming.
With the new gallery, the university says, the American University Museum will be a natural destination for another local art resource, one whose future is uncertain: the Washington art collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
“The gift and the opportunity to take some art from the Corcoran Collection came about separately, but they will dovetail nicely,” says Jack Rasmussen, director of the American University Museum.
The gallery is the result of a $1.5 million gift from Carolyn Alper, an American alumna and a longtime D.C. benefactor. A founding member of the D.C. artist-run Foundry Gallery cooperative, Alper has given more than $1 million to the Corcoran as a trustee. With the endowment, Rasmussen says, part of the museum’s first floor will be devoted to space for Washington artists.
Viewers might be forgiven for thinking that was already the case: Recent shows on local art include two editions of “Washington Art Matters” and “Syzygy” by Corcoran professor William A. Newman. District artists who will see the spotlight in upcoming solo shows already in the works include painter Maggie Michael and voodoo artist Renee Stout as well as the late Kevin MacDonald.
One difference between the gallery-style shows of D.C. artists that American typically runs and the programming at the study gallery will be a deep historical focus, Rasmussen says. (He is presently in Astana, Kazakhstan, to speak at the opening of the country’s new National Museum.) The endowment will also boost the museum’s study collection. Further, the gift will allow the American University Museum to digitize its Washington art holdings, making these works more broadly available.
Once it is realized, the gallery won’t be a clean-cut solution for even the limited problem of Washington art within the Corcoran collection. There may be too many Washington artworks to go to any one institution. The mechanics for how artworks at the failing Corcoran will be distributed has yet to be decided. Neither George Washington University nor the National Gallery of Art, the partners assuming control of the Corcoran’s school and assets in the managed implosion of the institution, has indicated any plans for local works in the collection.
With the study gallery, the American University Museum may be the area museum in the best position to give works by local artists a proper home.
“We already have a pretty good collection of Washington art,” Rasmussen says via email. “We have modest pieces by hundreds of artists. But the Corcoran has major pieces by major artists.”
Photo via Flickr user Daniel Lobo, Creative Commons license. The article originally reported that the new initiative is named the Study Gallery. While Rasmussen describes it as a study gallery, that may not be its official name.