A bit of Go-go & culture …


We are very spoilt here in DC with many museums and galleries.  During the 13 years I’ve lived here I’ve been to most of them, some of them multiple times,  but I’ve just had my first visit to the Corcoran Gallery of Art.   The Corcoran is the oldest &  largest privately funded cultural institution in DC.   Its mission is to be “dedicated to art and used solely for the purpose of encouraging the American genius”.

William Corcoran used to open his home twice a week to allow viewing of his art collection.   In 1859 he commissioned James Renwick to design a gallery (now the Renwick Gallery) to house his collection  – construction was halted during the Civil War when the federal government seized the building but eventually it was completed and in May 1869 Corcoran deeded the building, grounds, & a $100, 000 private collection to the nine members of a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees. In 1870 the institution was chartered and exempted from taxes by an Act of Congress and  The Corcoran Gallery of Art formally opened on January 19, 1874 with an exhibition of 98 paintings and sculptures.  By the end of 1874  the collection had expanded to more than 300 works and by 1890 the collection had outgrown the building.  The Trustees bought land and commissioned architect Ernest Flagg to design a Beaux-Arts style  building to house the art and a school.    Ground was broken on June 26, 1893 and the finished building opened to the public on January 8, 1897 –  by this time the collection had grown to more than 700 works of art.

Corcoran instructed his Trustees to open the gallery free to the public twice a week. The other days a “reasonable fee”  for charged.  Senator H.S. Foote commented in 1873, “If all the great capitalists that our country contains could be persuaded to imitate his noble example, our republic would so become paradise.”

 The upper levels of the building are brick faced with White Georgia Cherokee marble and the basement level is constructed of Pink Milford granite.  The building decorations are marble in beaux- arts style.

Corcoran Gallery

Above the entrance it says: Dedicated to Art:  Dedicated to Art

The entrance lobby and coffee shop:  Interior

The exhibit we went to see was “Pump Me Up: DC Subculture of the 1980s”  – it was curated by graffiti historian & film producer Roger Gastman, and covered the Go-go and Punk movements, along with graffiti, which thrived in DC during a decade otherwise marked by crime and crack cocaine.      The exhibit wound its way around the wallsIMG_0703

I asked if I could take photos and they said yes I could take photos of “everything except photos”   –   IMG_0708aCool “Disco” Dan (the quotation marks are part of it) is the pseudonym of Dan Hogg who has been spraying his tag since 1984.  He maintains that he avoided being jailed or killed by devoting himself to graffiti rather than drugs or gang involvement.   IMG_0712a

1985 Go-go Poster: IMG_0714a

Jeff Nelson, musician & co-founder of Dischord Records, silkscreen “Meese is a Pig” poster with a list of alleged transgressions. Members of the punk community helped paste the posters around DC – those caught were arrested by the FBI.   IMG_0715a

Public Service poster…     IMG_0707aA city of murder: IMG_0717aThere were 3,056 homicide victims from 1st January 1987 – December 1991   Unidentified victims are included in that total.  There are a lot of really young people in this list  3,056 victims 87-89Posters were the prime publicity tools for Washington’s thriving go-go scene and they were conceived at Globe Poster Printing Corp., the Baltimore press of brothers Bob and Frank Cicero.   Washington was Globe’s biggest market in the ’80s and at the height of Go-go, Globe produced a thousand posters a day.

IMG_0721This one was of interest because the venue was close to where we live; it no longer exists:  IMG_0722Public Service Poster IMG_0711a

After touring the exhibit we explored the rest of the gallery  – I liked both of these but neglected to note the titles or artist: IMG_0724

This is afro.died.t.,  2011 by iona rozeal brown  (lower case as it was on the little tag)0731aAuvers-sur-Oise (Crow in the Wheat Field) 1981 by Robert Colescott IMG_0727aHand Held, 1996 by Jane Hammond.  Hammond explored systems of language & information.  For 20 years she limited her works to 276 found images.  In this picture each state is occupied by at least one picture from her collection.  IMG_0725

There was the usual unexplainable “art”   – this is Ratchet, 1995 by James HydeA box of paint blobs?

There was a grand room …  the Salon Dore – an example of early neoclassical style.  It was originally part of a grand Parisian home, the hotel de Clermont.  The room was commissioned by Pierre-Gaspard-Marie Grimod, Count d’Orsay, as a drawing room for Marie-Louise-Albertine-Amelie who he married in 1770.  The salon was dismantled at the end of the 19th century and sold to Senator William A. Clark  who installed it in his house on Fifth Avenue in New York.  The salon came to the Corcoran in 1926 as part of the Clark bequest.IMG_0739aGirl on Globe 2, 2011 by Yinka Shonibare. Notice that she is headless – Shonibare intends this to evoke the beheading of the French aristocracy during the Revolution of 1789-99 as well as to remind us of our own capacity for mindlessness in contemporary life..     The colour of the globe indicates global warming. IMG_0742aWe finished our visit with a self portrait:  (inside another of those unexplainable bits of art)Self portrait...



14 responses

  1. What a fascinating place!

    For all the Midwest ‘ain’t,’ STL tries to make up for… Our Art Museum’s credo is ‘dedicated to art and free to all.’

    You will never pay admittance! Same with the zoo, History Museum and many other attractions. Of course, some ‘touring’ exhibits are charged but no more than they are anywhere.

    As a 17yo, I was shocked at paying more for admittance JUST to get to a Warhol exhibit (which was also for a fee).

    That ‘my treat’ came in pretty steep lemme tell ya!

    This may also explain my penchant for travelling and only hanging out with locals rather than purposefully soaking up culture (not counting pubs, I can soak up plenty there)!

  2. Hmm…my state is represented by a green washcloth. I wonder what that’s supposed to mean. Oh well, at least I don’t live in creepy, eyeball-squeezin’ Arkansas.

  3. It’s neat the way you take us on a stroll through the gallery! I’ve been to the Corcoran once and remember liking it and wondering why that was the first time.
    I remember Disco Dan’s tags! Also remember that scary time in DC’s history. Someone I worked with in college was randomly gunned down a few years later in a drive-by shooting while walking her dog and is probably on that list of victims (though I can’t remember her last name or the year it happened).

  4. I like the “Auvers-sur-Oise” by Robert Colescott. It’s macabre, but it’s also bright and wild, like a Van Gogh painting.

    I wonder why Jane Hammond had Minnesota represented by a hand puppet of a pig with a red hand and heart inside. Iowa is better known for its pork production, lol. California as a place of firecrackers and butterflies seems right, but the pot of dark liquid being poured into a can with a hand in it is strange. In Southern California, no less.

    Resolved: I’m going to Washington D.C. someday.

    • i wonder if the can, etc. is about smog and people trying to say “No more!” but being stuck?

      The images she chose for PA are very strange. Not at all sure what to make of them…

  5. Oh man – “Wind me up, Chuck!” (Crowd response to go go pioneer chuck Brown; a holla-back.)

    I was in grad school at GW during the mid-late 80s, when go go was at its peak. Unfortunately, those big dances were not safe, as they attracted some really dangerous people, and there were murders… Very, very sad, considering that go go was pretty wholesome (nothing sinister or “gangsta”-like about the lyrics) at that point – but since the dances were so well-attended, they were easy places for dealers and other criminals to circulate.

    (for old times’ sake: I worked at the Corcoran during 1985-86. Good times…)

  6. Thank you for this interesting post and this good shot´s …your town is sooo big and have so wonderful places….I live in a little country and so I´m often in the woods-lol but our woods are also not so big. Happy Saturday

  7. This is so cool! Gorgeous building, wonderful opportunity to explore. LOVE the colors, the energy…and those “unexplainable” ones. Your self-portrait makes it MUCH better!

    Yes…nice of them to let you take pix. Wow.
    Thank you for sharing these, Emjay!

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