Andrew Tulumello.
Andrew Tulumello. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)

A court fight is quickly escalating over the future of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Two weeks after the gallery’s trustees asked a judge to approve a plan that involved transferring control of the museum’s building, art and school, a group of faculty, students and others—represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher—filed papers opposing the deal.

The Corcoran has struggled financially for years. Under the trustees’ proposal, George Washington University would take over the museum’s building and art college, and most of the art would go to the National Gallery of Art. The trustees, represented by Paul Hastings and Washington’s Julyan & Julyan, filed a petition in District of Columbia Superior Court on June 17 asking a judge to sign off on the deal.

The Corcoran’s financial situation “makes it impracticable, indeed financially impossible” for the trustees to continue operating the museum and the art school in their current form, lawyers for the trustees said in their petition.

But the nonprofit challenging the deal, Save the Corcoran, filed court papers on Wednesday arguing the trustees’ plan represented “complete surrender and abdication.” The group has asked the judge to allow the nonprofit to intervene in the case.

“The Trustees of the Corcoran ask the court to commit the gravest form of fiduciary breach: to destroy the very institution they are charged with protecting. Petitioners do not come to this court to save the institution; they come to eradicate it,” Gibson Dunn partner Andrew Tulumello wrote.

Gibson Dunn and Tulumello—a co-partner-in-charge of the firm’s Washington office—are representing the group pro bono. In an interview, Tulumello said the firm got involved 2 1/2 years ago, helping the challengers incorporate the nonprofit and then continuing to represent them. He said he got connected with the group through personal ties to people involved.

Tulumello’s practice doesn’t typically involve representing nonprofits in disputes in the art world—he co-chairs the firm’s class actions practice group. He said he’s enjoyed learning about the art world and getting to know the Corcoran as an institution.

“The firm has been incredibly supportive,” he said. The Corcoran is “part of our community, and it’s a historic part of the community, and I think the office and the firm really believe that we should be involved in that.”

The case is assigned to Judge Robert Okun. A hearing is scheduled for July 18.

Contact Zoe Tillman at ztillman@alm.com. On Twitter: @zoetillman.