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Before longtime Corcoran instructor Tom Green died Monday night after a long struggle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a group of artists, galleries, students, and colleagues had been mobilizing to purchase one of his paintings for the gallery’s permanent collection.
Green, who was 70, influenced countless artists during his nearly 40-year career as a Corcoran instructor. Last year, he began to speak out about the painful degenerative disease that would claim his life.
Back in February, Corcoran alumni association manager Caleb Fey launched a fundraiser to put one of Green’s paintings in the Corcoran. “I graduated in 1996 with a BFA in photography and I remembered Tom from my days here as a student, and the impression that he made on my friends who were in the painting department,” says Fey, who used the alumni’s Facebook page to reach out for donations. “After checking with the gallery registrar I discovered that the Corcoran owned a couple of pieces but didn’t own one of Tom’s paintings. I knew then what had to be done.”
Within four months, the group had purchased Witness, Beirut (shown), a 1982 painting that bears a passing resemblance to the work of Keith Haring but is still very much in keeping with Green’s larger concerns: language, translation, biomorphic imagery, anthropology, color, and mysticism. Over the last two years, Washingtonians have had plenty of opportunities to see the full scope of his thematically bizarre yet formally restrained paintings. Two of his large works appeared at Civilian Art Projects in early 2011 (“6 Painters“). In March, Curator’s Office presented a solo exhibition of Green’s last works on paper before he was diagnosed with the terminal neurological disease. And early in 2010, the Katzen mounted a retrospective of his work.
For the month of September, the Corcoran will exhibit Witness, Beirut and two other pieces by Green in the Contemporary Art Since 1945 galleries. But his most enduring legacy may be the many Washington painters who took his classes for decades.