Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Corcoran Museum of Photography?

Just this morning, Jacqueline Trescott of The Washington Post penned an article titled, "The Corcoran Re-Imagined."  The article mentions that The Corcoran Gallery has hired a strategy firm, Lord Cultural Resources of Toronto, Canada to "attempt to chart its destiny."

Over the years, the Corcoran has had its share of challenges ... mostly budgetary, but also as Ms. Trescott states, "a lack of permanent leadership." Many of their problems go back to 2005 when David Levy, the Corcoran's long time director canceled the Corcoran's building expansion project. He was unable to raise the $200 million needed for the project and later resigned.

In addition to budgetary concerns, visitation has been on the decline. This is no surprise since they are one of the few museums that charges an admission fee ($10.00). The art collection of the Corcoran is comprised of 19th and 20th century American and European art as well as substantial holdings of photography and decorative arts. With the exception of photography and media arts, the overall collection is pretty middle of the road ... just my personal opinion.

On a positive note, The Corcoran College of Art and Design is doing quite well. According to The Washington Post article, "In the past three years, enrollment grew by 30%." Their photography department, headed by Andy Grundberg, noted photography critic for the New York Times, has a world class photography curriculum and teaching staff.

I am in no way an expert on the marketing of museums, but it is pretty clear that the Corcoran competes with the likes of the National Gallery of Art, The Museum of American Art and maybe even The Phillips Collection. There really does not seem to be anything that makes the Corcoran stand out with the exception of one area ... photography.

The Corcoran Gallery was one of the first museums to accept several of my prints for their permanent collection, so I may be a bit prejudiced, but one area in my opinion that shines brilliantly at the Corcoran is its photography department. The department is headed by writer, editor, filmmaker and photographer, Phillip Brookman. His official title is Director of Curatorial Affairs. Mr. Brookman's area of interest is the history of 20th-century photography, specifically documentary photography and film. The Corcoran has always been a spring board for great photography exhibits ... from Sally Mann to Robert Frank and Richard Avedon. Mr. Brookman's longtime assistant curator and in the past few years, the Corcoran's Curator of Photography, Paul Roth, is now the Director of The Richard Avedon Foundation in New York City. Paul Roth is an example of the academic and curatorial talent we have in the photography community as a result of The Corcoran Gallery.  

Rochester, New York has the George Eastman House, New York City has the International Center for Photography (ICP) and Tucson, Arizona has The Center for Creative Photography ... all internationally recognized institutions. Why not The Corcoran Museum of Photography? In my opinion, it makes perfect sense. What better place than The Nation's Capital to have such a museum? Doing so would not only provide a facility large enough to maintain a major photographic archive, but it would add to Washington's reputation as being a major international museum destination.  

I am not alone in my thinking. Several years ago, Lenny Campello from the Daily Campello Art News wrote an extensive article on turning the Corcoran into a photography only museum.   

Could you just imagine a building the size of the Corcoran Gallery filled with nothing but photography? With EVERYONE today being a photographer, I think the lines would be out the door!


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