The Corcoran Gallery of Art at GWU: A Review

Located near the National Mall and White House in Washington, D.C. I’ve walked past this building innumerable times without having any inkling that it contained a gallery and small collection of student and professional multi-media, mixed media, and traditional media installations, prints, and paintings. Knowing that others must be in the same boat of ignorance, I felt it was important to write this review of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in order to help others that may be interested in visiting and struggled like I did to find concrete information about it online.

If one has spent any amount of time walking around D.C., you will have noticed that the Corcoran name displays prominently on various buildings and street names. Indeed, William Wilson Corcoran (1798-1888) was a wealthy and respected member of Washington society who contributed immensely to the development and establishment of arts with his commitment to and investment in 18th, 19th, and 20th Century American art.  Interestingly enough, The Renwick Museum building was originally built to house the Corcoran Collection but it ended up being too small in size and reticent neighbor’s prevented its further expansion. As a result, the Collection was moved down the street to its present location and received generous contributions from various artists throughout the first quarter of the 20th Century. Due to the scale of the pieces in the Collection, a Board of Trustees has been tasked with gifting the priceless works to museums and foundations across D.C. To date, 8,631 pieces from the collection have been donated to the National Gallery of Art and 10,862 pieces will be distributed this year amongst 22 institutions throughout the city.

More information about the Corcoran Collection here.

Entrance to Corcoran Gallery

Time Required? I walked through all of the galleries in approximately thirty minutes; I’m not sure much more time than that was necessary.

Game Plan? Before you even walk in, be sure to take a few moments appreciating the imposing lion sculptures adorning either side of the building entrance, as well as the beautiful door inscribed with the phrase “Dedicated to Art.” After checking in with the front desk, grab one of the floor plan maps and then proceed to the large first floor. When I visited, there was a laser light display and two flat screen tvs that were part of “Open: An Installation by Robin Bell.” Aside from that, there wasn’t much to look at. I then proceeded into a smaller room that was an offshoot of, but also part of, the “Open” exhibition filled with four stacks of cubes that had quickly changing faces of politicians at times silent and speaking. 

From there I proceeded through the doors to the left and wandered through the somewhat random assortment of galleries. Some contained student work, others pieces of the museum’s collection, and still another contained an ornate antique French dining room. At one point on my self-guided tour I stumbled into a student room with sofas, computers, and enormous professional printers. The halls were mostly quiet and I largely had the place to myself. I then re-traced my steps to the grand front hall and ended my visit in the rotunda. The circular high-ceiling room is full of light and select thesis pieces from that year’s graduating class of senior art students. I found some to be more creative and interesting that others, with my favorite below.

Admission? Free! You will need to present your ID upon entry at the front desk for them to log you in the visitor’s log. The gallery is open to the public Tuesday-Friday 10am-6pm and on weekends 1pm-6pm.

Kid Friendly? Yes, although there isn’t too much for them here. Unless, of course, they’ve got dreams of going to art school!

“MFA” (1968) by Edgardo Franceschi

Bring a date? Sure, but don’t plan on impressing them with romantic surroundings or a cozy cafe.

Cafe? No, but there are various restaurants and cafes within a few blocks.

Store? No.

Special Events? Yes! Since the gallery is part of the George Washington University campus, the museum is often part of school events and rotating student exhibitions.

“The Young Bishop” (1962) Fernando Botero

Stars? 2/5. There’s not much at the gallery at the moment, but check back later because they have future plans of expanding the exhibition space by opening up the top floor and filling it with works from the original Corcoran collection. 

Anything else I need to know? The architecture and building itself might just be the best part of the museum. Be sure to literally look up when you’re inside and take in all of the beautiful carved friezes, columns, rotunda ceiling, and majestic grand staircase. 

One of the helpful student volunteers suggested I visit GWU’s Textile Museum located in Foggy Bottom, so stay tuned for a review of that museum once I get the chance to check it out.

“Valkyrie” (2018) Rhe’a Roland


Address?  Flagg Building: 500 17th Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20006 202-994-1700. There is some but not much parking nearby, so you’re best bet is getting off at the Farragut West or Foggy Bottom Metro stops and then walking the ten-ish minutes to the museum. The entrance is on the 17th street side across from the Eisenhower Executive office building.

“The Lobster” Series (2018) Caroline Casey

Disclaimer: My views are my own and do not reflect the opinion or position of the Corcoran. I am not getting compensated in any way for this review.