The Corcoran Gallery Of Art in Washington D.C. is widely regarded as one of the world's great collections of art. What is less well known is the up-hill struggle the Corcoran has to keep its doors open these days.
Founded in 1869 as a private art gallery its mission was to encourage American genius in art. By that measure it has been wildly successful, at least in its early days, but with a strategy so nebulous it was bound to have difficulties once more finely focussed (and state supported) institutions opened their doors starting with The National Gallery Of Art in 1937.
In this light public perceptions are hugely important, and for many years substantial private donations kept the Corcoran's coffers awash with sufficient cash reserves to enable them to initiate the planning for a Frank Gehry designed new wing estimated to cost $115 million. By 2001 it was reported that they had raised $60 million, yet 2005 the project was cancelled due to lack of funds.
Now in 2007 the Corcoran spends $2 million to stage a huge exhibition called "Modernism", attracts 60,000 less patrons than the 2002 exhibition "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years" and appears to have lost as much as $500,000 yet the Corcoran leadership describes Modernism as a "smash success". Huh?