Concert for the Ages: Kennedy Center’s Tribute to John Williams, 90
Corcoran Gallery of Art
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Corcoran Alumni Hold ‘Funeral’ for Shattered Gallery
Robert Devaney • October 23, 2014
The Corcoran Gallery of Art died this weekend at the age of 145. Founded in 1869 by Georgetowner William Wilson Corcoran, the gallery was one of the oldest art museums in the United States. Through bad business decisions, the institution could not sustain itself and was divided between the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. The gallery’s last day was Sept. 28.
“We are all art widows now,” said Corcoran curator emerita Linda Crocker Simmons, an organizer of the requiem for the gallery.
Former staffers of the gallery — many dressed in Victorian funereal garb — met Sept. 27 to hold a mock memorial service at the Flagg Building on 17th Street and to celebrate what was once a vibrant beacon of the visual arts, especially American, and then proceeded to Oak Hill Cemetery on R Street in Georgetown, where Corcoran was buried in 1888.
As they reunited with old friends, mourners walked through the museum and were read a honor roll of names of those involved with the Corcoran. With names of artists and of those at the gallery, the service began to evoke a personal feeling — and also showed how those works of art in the room with Peale’s “George Washington” and Bierstadt’s “The Last of the Buffalo” shall no longer be together as once they were. The Flagg Building will be renovated. The tears of former Corcoran staffers were real.
A white funeral wreath — reading, “Rest in Peace, Corcoran Gallery of Art” — greeted visitors walking up the steps with the Canova Lions sculptures on a beautiful, warm Saturday afternoon.
“We are left with a gorgeous building, but it is now no longer the Corcoran, but a cenotaph, a memorial to something that is not there, an empty tomb,” said former Corcoran director Michael Botwinick in statement, read by Carolyn Campbell, one of the funeral’s organizers and a former public relations head for the Corcoran.
As Botwinick praised the art collection, the artists and students and those who worked at the Corcoran, he observed: “If there is one thing that surprised me in the last two years, it has been the deafening silence. Except for that circle that rallied to help people understand what was at stake, the voices of the larger community of patrons, colleagues, politicians and community leaders have been absent from the conversation. And that silence has now rendered this building mute.”
After taking in the grand hall and rooms one last time, mourners left for their cars to follow the hearse in a funeral procession to Oak Hill Cemetery, where that white wreath was carried in a procession and placed in front of Corcoran’s mausoleum. There was another chance for staffers to reminisce, as they stood for a time in the sunny peace of the Victorian cemetery.
Storytellers recalled the time Robert Mapplethorpe was smoking a joint in the downstairs gallery featuring his first museum exhibition while his friend’s photo collection was on view in the upper five galleries — and then there was the book signing where Andy Warhol used lipstick to kiss each book with an impression of his lips. He had to leave to catch a plane and told a disappointed staffer on the end of the line to use his lipstick and kiss the book herself.
On the hillside, bagpiper Tim Carey played “Going Home” by Dvorak, and those remaining left for the Jackson Art Center, one block away on R Street. The center with working artists had prepared afternoon refreshments, and it seemed a most apropos ending to the day.[gallery ids="101872,137404,137387,137407,137400,137392,137396" nav="thumbs"]