When does an art museum become less a public institution and more a glorified entrance lobby? When its developers, themselves scions of the contemporary art world, refer to it as "a new paradigm for a kind of hotel-museum community."
Washington DC's Corcoran Gallery of Art plans to sell a property originally earmarked for its art school to uber-art collectors and hotel kingpins Don and Mera Rubell, the same pair who will curate an exhibition of their collection planned for the Corcoran in 2011. Thus the original public sale of the discounted land to the Corcoran turns into a "disappointing" hotel-private museum development instead of an art school, and a case of art world inside trading tied up in public museum real estate.
We are in some ways lucky to be living in the era of art museums as big-box stores. Not dissimilar to urban Wal-Marts, an increasing number of art museums have expanded in order to host greater numbers of both visitors and exhibitions, not to mention cafes and gift shops. But from constructing massive new spaces to brand building and franchising, many art museums have come under fire for being too eager to expand, neglecting their original missions or pushing too far beyond art world boundaries. Institutions as diverse as New York's Whitney and Museum of Modern Art, DC's Corcoran and National Gallery and Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation are all tied up in development deals somewhere between the public good and private interest.