Serendipity DC: Former Corcoran Gallery of Art Artwork Installed at the Wilson Building

Back in 2018, it was announced that the DC Council would be one of just 22 institutions receiving artwork from the former Corcoran Gallery of Art.

That artwork has now been installed here at the John A. Wilson Building, our city hall, statehouse, and county seat. The exhibit, called “Serendipity DC,” is on the building’s fourth floor, and is open to the public during weekday business hours.

The signage from the exhibit, included below, explains how the exhibit came about, and what it includes. Be sure to check it out!


Serendipity DC



An unsought, unintended, and/or unexpected, but fortunate, discovery and/or learning experience that happens by accident.


When lightning strikes, you need to be ready.

In 2014, it was decided that DC’s renowned and historic Corcoran Gallery of Art would be dissolved. The bulk of its artwork would go to the National Gallery of Art, but the remaining works would be available to other local institutions on the condition that they would remain in the District in perpetuity.

In the end, just 22 institutions received artwork. The Council of the District of Columbia was one of them. Others included the Phillips Collection, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Howard University, and the Supreme Court.

This exhibit is the result of a 1-in-1,000 winnowing process. Here’s how the Council ended up with the artworks it did:

20,000   Total artworks at the Corcoran Gallery of Art before it closed. Of those:

10,750   Artworks were made available to DC-area institutions. Of those:

146         were DC-related artworks. Of those:

64           Artworks were requested by the Council. Of those:

19           Artworks were provided to the Council.

Unlike virtually other any exhibit, the collection of photographs you are about to see, while curated for its DC theme, was not technically selected by any individual. It is an odd but fascinating assemblage, a result of pure serendipity. Serendipity that the Council requested art in the first place, and serendipity that, of the art we requested, we got what we got. It is almost as if a random art generator provided us with seventeen works unified only by their DC theme and their joyful spontaneity.

Included in the exhibit, among others, are works by:

  • former Second Lady of the United States and native Washingtonian Tipper Gore
  • 40-year Washington Post photographer and native Washingtonian Arthur Ellis
  • the late DC resident, photographer, and Thai action movie star Oi Veerasarn
  • former National Geographic photographer Clifton Adams
  • Adams Morgan photographer John Gossage

While the works received are generally smaller in scale and scope, they each lend some insight into diverse people, places, history, and other aspects of life in the District of Columbia. They are a celebration of DC’s eclecticism. And of its serendipity.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art was one of the first private museums in the United States. It was established in 1869 by William Wilson Corcoran and expanded in 1880 to include the Corcoran College of Art and Design with the mission ‘dedicated to art and used solely for the purpose of encouraging the American genius.’ In 2014, the Corcoran transferred the college to the George Washington University and distributed the works from its Collection to museums and institutions in Washington, D.C.