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Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art curatorial office records

 Record Group
Identifier: COR0005.0-RG

Scope and Contents

Although the Curatorial Office's records comprise a voluminous 150 linear feet of material, they do not provide an exhaustive account of the activities, functions, and events associated with that office. There are two key reasons for this. First, as the previous section of this description suggested, for a large part of its history, the Corcoran lacked a cohesive, well-defined curatorial department whose duties were exclusively curatorial. (The earliest evidence of the beginning of such a staff occurs in the 1950s.) Secondly, with expanded program activities surrounding the exhibitions schedule in more recent years , other offices are concerned with and have files which relate to those in this record group. They include the records of the Director's Office, Education, Public Relations, Special Events, and Development. All these departments play an important role in producing the final product. As a result of these two factors, records which deal directly with or relate to curatorial concerns may not always be located in the Curatorial Office's Records: some may be found in the Curatorial Records' Subgroup 2, the Registrar's Records. Other records groups of possible value include those of the offices listed above as well as the Conservator's Records, Finance, the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, and the Corcoran School of Art . In many cases, one or more of these groups will have to be referred to for complete information on questions concerning the Curatorial Office.

The Curatorial Records of the most complete nature are the exhibition files and exhibition catalogs. These records offer an almost exhaustive account of Corcoran exhibitions, especially after 1910. The files contain all those materials which were generated by a variety of staff members while curating each exhibition. These constitute most of the extant curatorial materials for the first half of the twentieth century.

Curatorial administrative files up until about 1960 are sparse and incomplete. The Curatorial Records do feature some correspondence, especially for the 1950s. A significant portion of the correspondence for these years, however, is located in either the exhibition files (described above), or the accession files in the Registrar's Office, or the Director's Correspondence. Other materials include Curator's Reports for scattered years beginning in 1949; scrapbooks containing news clippings, announcements, and invitations to exhibitions; and Works of Art Committee Reports, beginning in 1951. Finally, this pre-1960 period features a complete record of the activities of the Trustee Protective Measures for the Gallery Building & Contents Committee, active from 1941-44 in protecting Corcoran works of art against possible damages relating to the war.

Starting in the early 1960s and extending into the 1970s, the Curatorial Records begin to establish a more complete record or that office's activities. The most significant change is the increase in the volume and range of correspondence. Several curatorial concerns appear i n the office records for the first time, including miscellaneous correspondence with artists, loans of works of art, acquisitions or possible acquisitions, and exhibition ideas. One must continue to investigate other records, however, for completeness-Registrar's Office Records (Subgroup 2) , Director's Records, Public Relations, and Conservator's Files. Other materials which become more voluminous during these years include the Trustee Works of Art Committee Records. These provide a fuller account of committee activities than in records for previous years and demonstrate the committee's steady involvement in such areas as exhibitions and possible gifts to and purchases by the Gallery. Curator's Reports also provide good coverage of the Curatorial Office's activities throughout the decade, but become scattered for the early 1970s. (Complete information on the reports is given in the series description.) In addition, some significant events of the late 1960s are well-documented in the administrative records for these years, including the acquisition of Dupont Center and the storage and maintenance of the Vincent Melzac Collection. Finally, although the materials for the 1960s and early 1970s had been in storage for several years and were found largely unorganized, it was possible to identify the files of several curatorial staff members. These have been kept intact and described according to staff member to preserve surviving evidence or individual interests as well as responsibilities.

The Curatorial Records for 1975 until the present are voluminous and diverse, chronicling well the activities and concerns of that office since the appointment of Jane Livingston, Chief Curator and Associate Director. Many subjects which appear prominently in the files for these years continue subjects which made their first appearance in the 1960s, such as correspondence with artists, museums, dealers, and photographers; exhibition ideas; loans of works of art, and possible acquisitions. Other topics featured include curatorial budgets, exhibition schedules and grant proposal materials to both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Finally, some curatorial activities such as the College Art Association Conference of 1979 and the Corcoran-sponsored Photo Symposium of 1978, are subjects which receive prominent attention in the files. Likewise , the Works of Art Committee Records for the post-1975 years continue to offer an accurate account of committee activities. It should still be noted, however, that other records from offices performing curatorial-related t asks must be referred to for thoroughness. Director's Records remain valuable files for this record group, especially when interested in locating information about exhibition budgets/finances and ideas. The Registrar's Office Records, Subgroup 2, contain important official information on loans (in & out) of art works. Development/Membership Records feature a large body of exhibition grant proposal materials and should be used when seeking that kind of information. Finally, Public Relations and the Conservator's Records may also contain materials concerning exhibitions and restoration/conservation efforts, respectively. In addition, it should also be noted that, although the records are complete in almost all areas for the post-1975 period, the Curator's Reports since that time are relatively sparse and widely scattered.


  • Creation: circa 1874-2013


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to research.

When conducting research within The Corcoran Archives collections, pleased be advised of the following restrictions:

Records of the Board of Trustees (RG 1.0) and records of the Office of the Director (RG 2.0) are closed to research for 25 years from the date of creation.

Development records are closed to research (RG 3.2).

Access to student records is governed by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student education records. Student records are closed for the lifetime of the student, and are presumed to be open 75 years after the date of record creation (RG 9.0 Series 4).

Personnel and financial records are closed for 50 years from date of record creation (RG 4.0).

Please see the Public Services and Instruction Librarian for assistance.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that the institution owns copyright, the donor has assigned the copyright in its works to The George Washington University; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For activities that the researcher determines fall under fair use as defined under U.S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Please contact Special Collections if the copyright status of the materials you wish to reuse is unclear. Staff will provide additional information. For re-use of materials in the collection not created by the donor, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights, determining if the intended re-use falls under fair use, and obtaining approval from the copyright holder if the intended use does not fall under fair use. For such materials, researchers do not need anything further from The George Washington University’s Special Collections Research Center.

Historical narrative

The first section of this history, covering events through 1981, was prepared by Corcoran Archivist Katherine M. Kovocs for publication in 1985 with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

From its founding in 1869 until the 1930s, curatorial duties were performed by the Gallery's administrative office, which was initially headed by the Curator who later assumed the title of Director. It was not until the early 1930s that, as the staff expanded, the Corcoran begin to assign curatorial duties to specific staff members. When Emily Millard, Mr. Minnigerode's secretary, was appointed Manager of Special Exhibitions in 1931, it was the first clear assignment of such curatorial duties to a staff member. Two years later in 1936, the Trustees of the Gallery continued this trend with the appointment of curator Jeremiah O'Connor, placing him in charge of Corcoran tours and the docent training program.

World War II temporarily halted further staff expansion, but the post-war era saw renewed efforts to improve and expand the curatorial staff. By 1946 that office included such new positions as Associate Curator and Curatorial Assistant with Miss Millard and Mr. O'Connor retaining their positions as heads of the staff. In 1948, however, both Millard and O'Connor retired, and John Palmer Leeper was appointed to the newly-created position of Lecturer and Keeper of the Clark Collection. Eleanor Swenson, who had been named Associate Curator the previous year, retained that post.

Additional curatorial staff changes were brought about in the 1950s. In 1951 Eleanor Swenson was given a new position as Curator or American Art and other staff members were consequently named Keeper of the Clark Collection, a post which was finally abolished in 1960. In addition, in 1951 Russell Quandt began his twenty-year affiliation with the Corcoran as its conservator, a position whose duties are closely linked with the Curatorial Department. The following year, 1952, saw the creation for the first time of a Registrar's position at the Gallery. The Registrar's duties included the registering of art objects; handling of loans, shipping and insurance procedures; and controlling the physical inventory and the storage of art objects. It was at this time that the Curator's and Registrar's offices, one department until this time, divided into two distinct units.

The 1960s saw a continued increase in the size of the Curatorial/Registrarial staffs as well as greater expertise amongst its members. At various times throughout this decade the curatorial staff featured Chief Curators, Registrars, Curators of Exhibitions, Curator of Collections & Research/Research Curator, Curator of Contemporary Art , Assistant and Associate Curators, and various curatorial and registrar assistants and secretaries. In addition, the Gallery's exhibition space was increased in 1968 with the acquisition of Dupont Center, previously known as the Washington Gallery of Modern Art. The Center was used initially as adjunct exhibition space for the Corcoran, with exhibitions focusing primarily on contemporary Washington art. Although the Center was later used for other purposes related to the Corcoran School, its use as exhibition space was important for demonstrating the Gallery's interest in both local and avant-garde art. (For a full history of Dupont Center see the series description.)

The 1970s featured further expansion, diversity, and organizational innovations in the Gallery's curatorial and registrar's departments. Until 1975, the Gallery's Director maintained an active role in curatorial affairs (e.g. exhibitions), continuing a trend begun by the Corcoran's first Curator/Director. However, with the appointment for the first time of a Chief Curator, Jane Livingston, in 1975, much of the aesthetic initiative and curatorial administrative responsibilities were placed with the Chief Curator. The Director, now aided by a large, expert curatorial staff, turned his focus toward other Gallery concerns, such as budgets, finances, and fundraising. This is especially true with the appointment of Peter Marzio as Director in 1978.

The latter half of the 1970s witnessed other important occurrences such as the creation of the Associate Director's post, the naming of a Curator of Collections, and the reinstallation of the "American" (permanent) collection.

Persons who figure prominently in the curatorial office's history include Renato Danese, Frances Fralin, Eleanor Green, James Harithas, Donelson Hoopes, Clair List, Jane Livingston, Gene McCormick, Edward Nygren, Nina Osnos, Dorothy Phillips, James Pilgrim, Eleanor (Swenson) Quandt and Linda (Crocker) Simmons.

The following section of this history was prepared in 2019 by George Washington University SCRC staff with the support of the Luce Foundation.

Following the reinstallation of the “American” permanent collection, the Gallery continued to expand on its American art holdings, beginning to branch out into American contemporary art. In 1979, the Gallery created the post of “Associate Curator of Contemporary Art for the Washington Region.” The position was revised later to include a national focus, becoming the Associate Curator of Contemporary Art. With the appointment of Ned Rifken in 1984, the position title was changed again to Curator of Contemporary Art.

Jane Livingston's tenure as the Chief Curator of the Gallery had long lasting effects on the direction of the curatorial department. From 1975 until her resignation in 1989, Livingston placed greater emphasis on photography and progressive modern art. Through her initiative, the Corcoran Gallery became a major force in Contemporary photography. Work by Ned Rifken (Curator of Contemporary Art 1984-1986) and Ed Nygren (Curator of Collections until 1988) further elevated the Corcoran’s position in the Washington contemporary art scene.

The Gallery suffered major setbacks in 1989 following the decision to cancel the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective The Perfect Moment. Jane Livingston resigned in protest of the cancellation, and several members of the curatorial staff followed her in departing the Corcoran. Jane Livingston’s position would not be filled for another three years, until the appointment of Jack Cowart in 1992. Cowart then created the position of Curator of Photography and Media Arts in the same year.

In 2007, the Corcoran set out five core subjects for the permanent collections; Historic American Art, Historic European Art, Photography and Media Arts, Decorative Arts, and Contemporary Art. There was a particular focus on the photography and American art collections.

The Gallery continued to acquire art, predominantly photographs and paintings, as well as loan works and house traveling exhibitions until its partition and dissolution in 2014.


638 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The Curatorial Records of the most complete nature are the exhibition files and exhibition catalogs. These records offer an almost exhaustive account of Corcoran exhibitions, especially after 1910. The files contain all those materials which were generated by a variety of staff members while curating each exhibition. This record group includes materials from approximately 1874 to 2013.


Organized into 36 series: Administrative, pre-1975: by type or subject; Administrative, pre-1975: by administrator; Jane Livingston records [processed in 1983]; Chronological or "blue" files; Exhibition files [processedin 1983]; Publications (exhibition catalogs, etc.); Ephemera (scrapbooks); Works of art committee records [processed in 1983]; Protective measures for gallery building and contents committee records; Administration files [processed in 2016]; Exhibition files [processed in 2016]; Jonathan Binstock curatorial files; Bill Bodine curatorial files; Philip Brookman curatorial files; Sarah Cash curatorial files; Jack Cowart curatorial files; Laura Coyle curatorial files; Linda Crocker Simmons curatorial files; Frances Fralin curatorial files; Cathy Frankel curatorial files; Tori Larson curatorial files; Claire List and Terrie Sultan curatorial files; Jane Livingston curatorial files [processed 2016]; Ed Nygren curatorial files; Elizabeth Parr curatorial files; Ned Rifkin curatorial files; Paul Roth curatorial files; Jackie Serwer curatorial files; Terrie Sultan curatorial files; General curatorial files; Children's Center Advisory Committee; Committee on Works of Art [procssed in 2016]; Museum Board of Overseerers Committee; Prints and Drawings Storage; Photograph Department files; and Images

Physical Location

Materials are stored off-site, and will require additional retrieval time. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Custodial History note

The Curatorial Records were transferred to the Archives from the Curatorial Office, the Registrar's Office, and various Gallery storage areas from 1980 to 2016.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Corcoran Institution Board of Trustees donated these records to The George Washington University in 2016.

Related Archival Materials note

Some record groups contain materials which relate to those in the Curatorial Records and should be investigated. The Director's Records, especially the correspondence files, often contain materials relating to curatorial activities and functions. The Development/Membership Records feature grant proposal information for catalogs, exhibition installations, etc. The Conservator's Records include materials on the restoration of numerous works in the permanent collection. The Curatorial Dupont Center Records can be more fully understood by ref erring to both the Washington Gallery of Modern Art Records and the Corcoran School of Art Records. Public Relations Records contain that departments exhibition files while Special Events Records contain announcements of and invitations to various exhibitions. Finally, the Archives Audio-Visual Records should be examined for photographs, rolls of negatives, photo plates, transparencies, tapes, and slides relating to this record group.

Processing Information note

During the processing project in 1983 the following materials were removed and placed in more appropriate locations:

News clippings; Artist vertical files or history clippings files; Announcements/invitations; Special Events ephemera; Exhibition catalogs (non-Corcoran); School Library for its collection; WGMA materials; Washington Gallery of Modern Art Records; Photos/slides/transparencies/tapes; Archives Audio-Visual Records.

In addition, the following materials were disposed of during processing: Annual Report copy; employment applications, cover letters, and resumes; expense vouchers, purchase orders; miscellaneous receipts; and information queries on exhibition schedules, artists or works of art. Those queries which provided new or significant information on an exhibit, artist or work of art were retained (most often transferred to the artist vertical files).

This collection was processed by K. Robinson in June 1983. In 2016 Special Collections staff undertook a processing project for those records not processed in 1983.

Processing Information

The first 9 series were processed in 1983 while series 10-36 were described in 2016. There has been no attempt to integrate either intellectually or physically these two sets of series. For ease of browsing several series within 10-36 were moved in the list of series in the finding aid to appear adjacent to similar materials in series 1-9.

Guide to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art curatorial office records, circa 1874-2013
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

George Washington University Gelman Library
2130 H Street NW
Washington DC 20052 United States of America