Sunday, September 28, 2014

Better late than never: my trip to the Corcoran

Washington, DC has many museums other than the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art.  The reason I don't visit them is that they charge for admission, and since I only have a limited time to spend, I don't think it's worth it to pay $20+ to see one exhibit.  Besides, the Smithsonian and National Gallery are world class, so it's not as if I'm having to settle for second best, by limiting my visits to them.

The Corcoran, which is (I believe) the oldest art museum in DC, has recently been taken over by the National Gallery, so it's no longer charging admission.  There was a great kerfluffle over this; if you're interested in the play-by-play, see the Washington Post website for full details.

Now that this is another free DC museum, I headed over there to have a look at its collection.  Not wanting to just wander around aimlessly, I opted for the guided tour.  The docent was excellent, and we saw many lovely pieces.  Not just classic art: statues and oil paintings, but quite modern items as well.  The Corcoran has its own version of the Peacock Room; theirs is a room a French count had built for his princess fiancee.  Imagine France, circa 1788, and you'll have an idea of the decor: heaps of gold everywhere and terribly ornate.  Not exactly to my taste, I'm afraid.

But imagine my surprise and delight, to see a Yinka Shonibare in the center of the room! "Girl on Globe 2" is, at first, anachronistic.  A symbol of globalization and a herald of the problems of global warming, she seems out of place amidst the gilt and the rococo.  Of course, given a little thought, she's perfectly situated.  She has no head, and she stands directly opposite a clock that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.  Her style of dress would have fit right in amongst the nobility of late 18th century France.  She is, literally, on top of the world, and the people who used this room thought they were, figuratively, as well.  All in all, a brilliant juxtaposition.

The museum is a bit shabby, if I'm being truthful.  I also saw no evidence of a gift shop - a first in my experiences of museums.  I'm assuming this is because the place is closing shortly.  According to the docent who led my tour, lots of work needs to be done on the building, and then it can be used again.  For what exactly, I don't know.  Perhaps for swanky receptions?  Perhaps as overflow exhibit space for the National Gallery?  I just hope that wherever the Shonibare piece ends up, I can see it again.

Verdict: If you have a chance to visit before it closes (not sure exactly when that is, but soon), you'll find some good pieces and an interesting building.

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