The Corcoran Gallery of Art is considering leaving its longtime home at 17th Street and New York Avenue NW, according to three sources at the museum.
The sources said the institution’s board will vote on a plan to put the Corcoran’s Beaux-Arts building up for sale. Besides those sources, several current and former trustees confirmed the board was meeting today but would neither confirm nor deny that the board was voting on the sale of the Corcoran’s building, which has been its home since 1897. Corcoran board chairman Harry F. Hopper III hung up when Washington City Paper called him.
A potential new location for the Corcoran has not been named, and two sources familiar with the meeting’s agenda said the board was unlikely to come to a decision about it today. Two sources independently mentioned the waterfront in Alexandria as one possible site for the Corcoran’s relocation, should its board vote to sell. All the sources spoke only on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the museum’s plans.
One described the decision as the result of a reorientation of the institution’s leadership. Tax records show that in 2009, the Corcoran—under the guidance of Hopper, the newly appointed board chair and a venture capitalist—spent more than $600,000 on a “strategic management plan” provided by the consultancy Real Change Strategies, Inc. That study cost nearly as much as the Corcoran’s top executive salaries combined for that year. The board also moved to sell a 16,000-square-foot development site adjacent to the museum. Carr Properties broke ground on a 122,000-square-foot office there in April.
In 2009, Fred Bollerer, a partner at Real Change, was named chief operating officer at the Corcoran. When then-director and president Paul Greenhalgh resigned the following year, Bollerer, a venture capitalist with no prior experience in museum administration, was named interim director and chief executive officer of the Corcoran—a position he still holds.
Should the board vote today to relocate the institution, it wouldn’t be the first move for the Corcoran. Before 1897, when the institution built its current home—which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992—the Corcoran was based in the Second Empire–style building that is now home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery.
If the Corcoran decides to decamp to another location, another museum could once again take up the former Corcoran residence. “If I were doing something like this, I would very quietly look for a buyer,” says David C. Levy, who served as the Corcoran’s director for 14 years before resigning in 2005. Levy says he has no knowledge of the museum’s current plans, but he adds that, “For them to just put the building up for sale would certainly make the city very angry.”
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