The Corcoran Gallery of Art

Washington, DC -- (202) 639-1700


45th Biennial Exhibition: The Corcoran Collects

July 17 - September 28, 1998


For nearly 100 years, the Corcoran Gallery of Art has charted the extraordinary course of American contemporary painting through its Biennial exhibitions. This year, the Corcoran celebrates the rich history of its Biennials by presenting, for the first time, a major selection of paintings that the institution has acquired from its past Biennial exhibitions. Featuring approximately 135 works, The 45th Biennial Exhibition: The Corcoran Collects provides a rare opportunity to trace significant trends in American painting through the Corcoran's permanent collection. The exhibition is on view from July 17 through September 28, 1998.

Since its inception in 1907, the Corcoran Biennial has been dedicated to supporting the work of living American artists. The exhibition has taken many forms, from on-site selections by a jury of respected artists, to invitationals chosen by a single curator, from extensive presentations by some 400 artists, to selected bodies of work by as few as five.

The 45th Biennial Exhibition: The Corcoran Collects is loosely divided into two broad sections: 1907 to1967 and 1969 to the present. The exhibition begins with paintings acquired from the most recent Biennials and moves back in time, ending with works purchased from the inaugural 1907 exhibition. The 45th Biennial surveys the great range of American painting, highlighting the work of acclaimed artists such as Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Joan Mitchell and Robert Mangold. "For almost a century, the Corcoran Biennial has brought contemporary art from around the nation to Washington, DC," says Dr. Jack Cowart, Corcoran deputy director and chief curator. "As a result, the Corcoran has been able to introduce our community and our nation's capital to new art. The Biennial also gives us the chance to expand the permanent range of artistic experience within the city because throughout this century we have been committed to the acquisition of as many works as possible. The Biennial has been therefore, our longest-running purchasing mechanism for building the museum's contemporary paintings collection."

The Corcoran Biennial is the 6th oldest continuous exhibition series in the United States and the only one dedicated exclusively to painting. Established as a competitive, open, juried, exhibition, the Biennial was designed to awaken interest in the Gallery, support the work of living artists and educate the public at large. The Biennials from 1907 to 1967 were organized by juries of respected artists who bestowed awards for artistic excellence. The exhibitions during this period reflect the particular tastes of the juries, who often invited specific artists to exhibit. The first Biennial filled the museum with nearly 400 works, of which the Corcoran acquired 13 for its permanent collection. Included among them was Winslow Homer's A Light on the Sea. "During these years, the Corcoran Biennial played a vital role in fostering an interest in contemporary American art," says Linda Simmons, Corcoran curator of American art and research. "The success of the Biennials in educating the public and encouraging the growth of the Corcoran's collection is evident in this retrospective overview."

After 1967, the Gallery, following the lead of other national and international biennials, changed from the process of the jury and award system. Instead, an organizing curator was chosen to develop a unifying theme for the exhibition. As a result, each Biennial since 1967 has presented a particular point of view, reflecting the trends and tendencies of the times as filtered through the specific lens of the curator's eye. Recent Biennials, for instance, have focused on issues such as abstraction and figuration. "The Biennials presented during this period," says Terrie Sultan, Corcoran curator of contemporary art, "reflect the changing attitudes in American museums about the character and value of theme shows, the general usefulness of such enterprises, and the specific capacity of these exhibitions to present a meaningful and comprehensive picture of current aesthetic discourse."

The collecting efforts from Biennial exhibitions have been greatly enhanced over the years by the generosity of area collectors, artists, Corcoran volunteer groups and national foundations. In particular, the Women's Committee and the FRIENDS of the Corcoran have made significant contributions to building the institution's permanent collection since 1951 and 1961 respectively, acquiring 21 paintings from Biennial exhibitions between them. The Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts have also sponsored important acquisitions, bringing works by Lee Bontecou and Joan Mitchell among others into the Corcoran's collection.

The 45th Biennial: The Corcoran Collects is organized by the curatorial team of Linda Simmons, Terrie Sultan and Jack Cowart, and is coordinated by Paige Turner, assistant curator of exhibitions. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition. It features an introductory essay by Cowart, an historical overview of the early Corcoran Biennials by Simmons and a survey of the post-1969 exhibitions by Sultan. The catalogue also includes a checklist, a summary of past Biennial catalogue contents and a chronology of Biennial history. The catalogue is supported by the Corcoran's Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Research and Publications Fund and the Katherine Dulin Folger Fund. The exhibition is underwritten by the Corcoran's Anna E. Clark Biennial Fund.

From top to bottom: Edward Hopper, Ground Swell, 1939, o/c; Winslow Homer, A Light on the Sea, 1897, o/c; Maurice Sterne, After Lunch, 1930, o/c; Mary Cassatt, Susan on a Balcony Holding a Dog, 1880, o/c.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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