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.

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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!

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“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.

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“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.

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“Valkyrie” (2018) Rhe’a Roland

Website? https://corcoran.gwu.edu

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.

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“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.

The Phillips Collection: A Review

Touted as America’s “First Museum of Modern Art,” the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. is a worthy competitor to its larger counterparts on the National Mall, and can be enjoyed by both tourists, locals, and art aficionados alike.

Most famous piece in the museum? Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Photo above. Purchased by Duncan Phillips in 1923, for the sum of $125,000 (equivalent to $1.8 million today), this particular piece is just gorgeous. Even if you only have a few minutes, and can’t visit the other galleries in the museum, stop by this painting on the second floor, spend a few moments relaxing on the bench provided and appreciate the mastery of Renoir. While you’re there, see if you can spot Renoir’s crush and future wife.

Time Required? 1-2 hours. If you’re one of those people who like to read all of the placards, then give yourself a bit more time to peruse the galleries. However, if you prefer to move at a rapid clip, then you can easily get through the Phillips Collection in an hour or less.

Game Plan? After getting your ticket and checking your bag/coat, head up the stairs to your right and visit the galleries on the first and second floors. Depending on the calendar, the third floor may be hosting a visiting or temporary exhibition, or closed for the transition between exhibitions. After you’re done upstairs, walk back down to the lobby and visit the two galleries to the right of the cafe. From there, I’d recommend taking a short coffee, snack, or bathroom break if you need it, before visiting the permanent galleries in the older part of the museum to the left of the bookstore. Before you leave, be sure to pop into the bookstore for a quick browse, and don’t miss the art on the walls of the lobby.  If you have some extra time, there are interesting art books on the coffee tables that I’d recommend spending a few minutes perusing while relaxing on one of the couches.

Admission? Tuesday-Friday, it’s free! On weekends, admission for adults is $10; seniors/students are $8, members and kids under 18 are free. Visiting and temporary ticketed exhibitions, such as Nordic Impressions, claim a slightly higher price of $12 and $10, respectively.

Kid Friendly? Surprisingly, yes. There is a family reading room on the lower level of the museum, child-friendly art pieces at kids’ eye-level along with accompanying conversation prompts, and events throughout the year, all geared towards youngsters. More info here. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, other visitors are understanding and compassionate towards families with kids. At the Phillips, one finds magnificent art with minimal snobbery and very little side-eye.

Bring a date? By all means. The Phillips Collection is small and quiet enough to lend a relaxing nature to a first, second, or tenth date. You won’t feel overwhelmed by the size of the museum or break the bank if you visit during the week. It’s also not one of the most well-known museums in the city, so you may end up inadvertently impressing your date by demonstrating superior cultural knowledge of D.C.

Cafe? Tryst at the Phillips Collection is cozy, warm, and a great spot to re-energize between galleries. I love their cappuccinos and the quiche is scrumptious and filing. When the weather is nice, pop outside to the sculpture garden and enjoy a cool drink in the fresh Dupont air. For those of you looking to do some work there, free wi-fi is provided.

Store? With a wide range of post cards, posters, notebooks, jewelry, scarves, art supplies, and books, as well as a rotating offering of objects for purchase relating to the temporary exhibitions, the Phillips Collection store is a delight. For example, on my last visit, I found an excellent pencil sharpener at a very affordable price. In addition, the clerks are very upbeat and helpful, and it’s large enough to not feel cramped or claustrophobic.

Special Events? So many! From concerts on Sunday afternoons, to Phillips after 5 parties, to artist talks and family events, the team at the Phillips Collection is constantly churning out high quality, affordable cultural experiences. It is so much more than a museum, it is a team of individuals that aims to make art approachable and fun. Follow the museum on social media, or join the mailing list to stay updated with all of the wonderful offerings.

Stars? 4/5. I’m a huge fan of small museums that pack a punch, and this one has nailed the formula for providing a high quality experience that brings visitors back again and again. Between its fresh temporary exhibitions, to the rotating pieces in its permanent collection, to the Rothkho room, and then topping it all of with its cozy cafe and well-stocked bookstore, this is a museum that can’t be missed.

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Reykjavik (1991) Richard Serra

Anything else I need to know? There is a free coat check to the right of the check-in desk and a place to store umbrellas. Also, free wi-fi is available throughout the museum.

Website? https://www.phillipscollection.org/ 

Address? 1600 21st Street NW Washington, D.C.  Via public transportation, the museum is about a five minute walk from the Dupont Circle metro station. There is also on-street parking available (if you can find it), but I’d recommend taking the metro.

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

Nordic Impressions: A Review

The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. is currently featuring an exhibition titled Nordic Impressions on the third floor through  January 13, 2019 (that’s only three days away, gasp!).  Appropriately timed to coincide with the beginning of the winter months, as well as with Christmas (the coziest time of the year); this Scandinavian- themed five room exhibition was surprising in some ways, and did not disappoint.

The surprises: I was taken aback by the age of many of the paintings. Yes, there were modern pieces from the past ten years, but there were also quite a few that dated back to the 1800s! That, I was not expecting. I was also surprised to see that the majority of the works were portraits, as opposed to landscapes. What was not a surprise considering the Nordic nature of the exhibition, was the sheer number of female artists featured within the galleries. As any museum lover will surely notice, most walls and halls of established museums are domineered by the classic male artists of the nineteenth century; but not this one!

A new fact: I visited Olafur Eliasson’s Reality Machines solo exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden back in 2015, and had no idea that he was previously involved in photographic projects with environmental messages such as the one on display in Nordic Impressions:

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The Island Series (1997)

An oldie but goodie: One of my favorite pieces from the exhibition was completed in 1887 by Oda Krohg, a Norwegian artist. Despite the fact that one would be unlikely to pinpoint the ethnicity of this little girl (although her blonde hair might be a dead giveaway), or know that this particular Evening Post was actually the conservatively-slanted Aftenposten of Norway, this painting’s social critique is still relevant in most places around the globe. In this particular case, according to the painting’s corresponding placard: the “newspaper disapproved of the the free-spirited lifestyle of the upper-class intellectuals, writers, and artists…[who] were critical of the Norwegian bourgeois society.”

In response, what does this little girl do? I imagine that after she overhears her artsy parents disapprovingly discussing the newspaper with their friends over beer in the living room, she prances into the kitchen, pulls out the largest pair of sheers she can find and proceeds to snip, snip, snip until the paper is in shreds on the floor. Enchanting, really.

Although, it begs the question: when is it appropriate to use children as political tools?

Regardless, someone please take those scissors away from her! Shes’s apt to lose a finger at the rate she’s chopping.

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“A Subscriber to the Evening Post” (1887)

A warrior: Another way that Nordic Impressions defied my expectations was in the lack of Viking-themed pieces. I’m sure this was done on purpose in an attempt to show another side of Scandinavia- one that isn’t filled by men with shields and maidens with braids. But the only one that even makes a slight nod to the ancient myths or the fighting days of old, is the painting in the featured image above. This painting titled “Warrior Maiden” (1964) by Johannes S. Kjarval displays a fluid female creature clutching a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. I was struck by her watery nature and the fact that she is simultaneously resisting and being nonresistant all in one fell swoop. Fighting to protect her people, perhaps?

Not your grandmother’s wall hanging: The exhibition also featured three films and three installations, my favorite of which is pictured below. With its floor-to-ceiling drippings of thread and wooden dowels arranged in multiple levels of “Vs”, this large wall hanging easily dwarfed all of the other works in the gallery and commanded my immediate attention upon entering the room. The highlight for me though was catching glimpses of the movements of people as they crept around its perimeter, peering up and inwards trying to grasp its colorful secrets.

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“Crossing Paths” (2014) Outi Pieski

Other notable pieces:

Nordic Impressions, the basics:

Time required? 30-45 minutes (depends on if you’re a “reader” or not, and will sit/stand still long enough to watch the entire length of a video)

Kid friendly? Yes. They even have a kids drawing activity! Very Scandinavian of them.

Admission? $12 for adults, $10 for students/seniors; members and youth under 18 are free.

Address? 1600 21st Street NW Washington, D.C. ( less than a five minute walk from the Dupont Circle metro station)

Stars? 3.5/5 stars. It was fairly small and didn’t blow me away. While I very much enjoyed some of the pieces, I’ve been much more impressed with some of the collections in these countries’ capitals than I was with the pieces selected to participate in this exhibition. All that is to say, I feel like the curator could have done better and it fell short of my expectations.

Note: Even if you can’t make it to the PC before the Nordic Impressions exhibition closes its doors, I still highly recommend a visit to the museum if you’re in the area. Go during the week (Tue-Fri) for free admission and catch some of the wonderful pieces on viewing from the permanent collection.