Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Price of Admission: Open Thread

In what the Times described as an email message "with little fanfare," the Metropolitan Museum of Art gave notice that it will raise its recommended Admission Fee to $20 (up from $15) starting August 1. The Met cited an annual operating deficit of about $3 million recently as the rationale, and implied that they've tried to avoid it, but...

“The Met has worked long and hard to find ways to address a longstanding operating budget deficit,” Mr. Holzer said. “This is an effort to remain as accessible as possible, without resorting to mandatory options like charging extra for special exhibitions.”
Now the Met is an absolute marvel. I certainly wouldn't wish any financial hardship on them. Between the calls by the ancestors descendants of ancient cultures for their art back (including, the stunning "Euphronios krater") and the recent suggestion that one of their prized paintings is a fake, they have plenty of other issues to deal with at the moment. But $20.00 for admission? Who do they think they are, MoMA? ;-)

As an art dealer, it's probably not good for me to admit this, but I haven't always paid the full recommended admission fee upon entering the Met. Depending on how frequently I'm going, I'll curb what I offer. And I've been known to respond to out-of-town guests who gasp at the price (the old price mind you) by demonstrating for them that the museum will indeed accept less than the full amount (although tourists who visit once every several years are precisely the group I feel should cough up the full amount).

Now anyone could get all righteous about how this limits access to our collective culture to the wealthy, blah, blah, blah, but the truth is, the museum must be incredibly expensive to upkeep. I don't mind noting that it does behoove the wealthiest Americans who've become obscenely more loaded under the current administration's cut-tax-and-spend policies to dig a bit deeper when our cultural institutions come calling, but I'm willing to take the Met at its word that they held off raising the fee for as long as they could.

On the other hand, (and it's probably my frugal nature), somehow my favorite museums in the world just so happen to be the free ones. From the National Gallery in London to the National Gallery of Art in DC (hell, even the Getty in Los Angeles is free, although they charge for parking), world-class collections manage to find a way to provide access to everyone, regardless of discretionary income level.

The thing about charging twice what your average movie costs is that that calculation won't escape most people looking for a way to spend the afternoon. Folks determined to visit the museum won't be deterred, I imagine, but the fee hike will undoubtedly give pause to the additional visitors who would otherwise casually drop in.

In the end, there's one very important bit of information art lovers should always keep in mind: commercial galleries are FREE!

Consider this an open thread on museum admission fees.

UPDATE: Don't miss Tyler's take here.


Blogger James Wolanin said...

I must confess, I've never paid more than five dollars to enter the Met and upon entering, I use the same joke every time when handing them a five dollar bill, "One adult please, starving artist discount". They never laugh. hmmm....

7/13/2006 09:18:00 AM  
Anonymous danonymous said...

FYI, The Brooklyn Museum, which is much smaller than the Met but also has some absolutely magnificent collections and an outdoor computerized dancing water fountain which one could watch for hours, has a similar policy of admission suggested, but one can pay between one cent to a few dollars for entry. ANd they too keep a straightface if you provide a penny.
Their Egyptology collection is especially world class.

7/13/2006 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or one could just buy a value-added annual membership, n'cest pas?

7/13/2006 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Membership is a good idea. The benefits are nifty, and if you go more than three times a year, you actually can save on the more economical membership levels.

More info here.

7/13/2006 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger benvolta said...

What other museums can you pay as you wish? This is a no no at MOMA and the Whitney right?

I suppose that a membership is the best option for those that plan to visit the museum often? I know that purchasing membership can feel daunting... especially if I am not %100 sure that I am going to have the time to really visit the museum throughout the year... For Museums with a set admission rate it would be nice to have a frequent visitor price... the admission could be lowered a bit with each visit.. or if you were a frequent visitor your ticket fees could count toward a membership somehow... with electronic cards or something.

I agree that keeping the tickets low will bring in a more diverse audience. o well.

7/13/2006 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My standard practice when visiting the Met, before I got sick of the lines and bought the $50 "Met Net" annual membership (unlimited free admission, but no mailings):

Pay $1.

Tell others in line that the listed admission is only a suggestion.

When I leave, give my admission button to someone coming in who looks like a student or similar.

Other than that, I do everything I can to publicize the (for some reason) little-known fact that the listed admission is only a suggestion, and that no one will look askance at you if you pay $1.

Another suggestion:

I believe that the reason that the Met is technically free is because it receives NYC and NYS funding. Thus, as an NYC resident who paid over $3000 in NYC taxes (and more than that in NYS taxes) last year, I feel somewhat entitled to free admission.

But the same may not go for out-of-towners or tourists.

7/13/2006 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Yes! Galleries are free and I have always been so gratefull for that. One of the few truely prized things I got out of my life in the NY art world was a lifetime artist's pass to the Whitney.

I really appreciate the Met's suggested policy. Sometimes I am hurting and don't make it but I try to keep tabs on what I owe.

7/13/2006 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I understand the gripes, but at least it remains voluntary donation. The Art Institute of Chicago recently ended its long-standing voluntary donation policy completely (though, on a positive note, they did raise the age limit for free childrens' admission from 5 to 12).

They came out, however, and explicitly claimed that it's not about revenue:

"It’s not a revenue builder," spokesperson Erin Hogan says, adding that it'll affect just 10 percent of the museum's 1.5 million attendees. Hogan says AI is "one of the last Chicago museums" to have a discretionary fee and is trying to bring itself "in line with the other museums in the city."

... which (discounting the revenue angle) is the most ridiculous rationale imaginable and, anyways, only mostly true (the MCA and Chicago Historical Society's entry fees remain "suggested," though the MCA at least doesn't flaunt this fact). It also raises an obvious question: exactly which 10% of their audience do you think they are most affecting with this move?

What most bugs me about it from a personal standpoint (aside from my cheapskate ways), is that, whereas I used to be able to pop in for a half-hour's worth of art at any time for a reasonable price, now that they're asking full admission, I feel obliged to make a day of it every visit.

I know, there's always a membership (and full library access sounds worthwhile), but...

Sturm and drang aside, ultimately you can still get into the Met for a buck.

7/13/2006 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger kurt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/13/2006 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

I found this out the hard way, but you get into MOCA for free if you're on jury duty. Just show them your card at the ticket window. They've even coordinated their schedules. Juries don't generally have to report on Mondays.

7/13/2006 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Simenzo said...

Until recently, the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum had an admission fee of $15 and no free days... pretty pricey for an organization whose main mission is to make art accessible to the community. And while PAM has a nice enough collection, it's no Met!

I discontinued my membership in protest, but have rejoined because the museum starting have occasional free days (sponsored by a regional supermarket) and reduced the entry fee to a more reasonable $10.

7/13/2006 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

BTW, Edward...

> Between the calls by the ancestors of ancient cultures for their art back...

I think you probably meant "calls by the descendants of ancient cultures"...

7/13/2006 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Ancestors have more clout. :)

7/13/2006 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

hah! excuse for that one...I'm just dumb.

7/13/2006 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Art Connoisseurs From Beyond the Grave?

7/13/2006 12:42:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

LACMA charges $75 for its lowest membership level (except for students and seniors). No artist level.

Which other museums out there do not discount for artists?

I admit that when I'm in NYC, I pay 25 cents to enter the Met. That used to be more than enough to cover the cost of the button. But then I worked at the Met for several years. Like Disney and Gehry, they think that it is an honor to work there and staff really shouldn't have to be paid a living wage.

7/13/2006 12:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a whole lot of complaining! No big deal. If you're poor or a rich cheapskate You can still pay as little as you want to enter the Met. This is a great thing and will remain so. No one seems to complain about the $20 cost of entertainment for a typical crappy two hour Hollywood movie plus bag of popcorn. What you get at a great museum is actually worth the price. If you can afford more than $1 when you go to the Met and you give that, you should be's not just for the so-called rich to pony up, it's up to all of us to support our cultural institutions. Dig as deep as you can and give what you can. And when you can't, the pay as you go policy is there to help out.

Memberships are great great deals. I suggest everyone become members of the musueum they love. Being a memeber encourages you to go more often.

I've often found some of the slightly higher levels of membership to be the best value. For example, if you give $150 - $200 per year to some museums, you often get reciprocal membership privileges at dozens of museums around the country.

As long as a musueum has some sort of policy to make it easy for financially challenged people to attend, I'm fine with high admission fees. Someone has to help pay. If I can afford to pay more, I'm happy to have that privilege...

Remember...if you can afford to pay the full admission price, and you don't, you're part of the problem. Your full admission price helps subsidize the visit of someone less fortunate than you.


7/13/2006 01:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

by the way ml, LACMA is free every day after 5 PM.

7/13/2006 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim L said...

Great post and I agree with most of your points - but for a lot of people, commercial galleries are not "FREE". In other words, even though it doesn't cost any money to enter into them, the cost to the psyche and ego of running the gauntlet of rude and condescending gallerists is very expensive and not to be lightly dismissed.

Gallery going can be exhausting and demeaning for those of us that are easily pigeonholed as "not worth their time or respect" by the gatekeepers. We don't get this attitude at public institutions.

7/13/2006 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

the cost to the psyche and ego of running the gauntlet of rude and condescending gallerists is very expensive and not to be lightly dismissed.

I've been going to galleries for more years than I can count, and I've never ever had a gallerist in any way interfere with me viewing the artwork. What sort of gauntlet have you experienced?

7/13/2006 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...


I'm curious to what extent this "exhausting and demeaning" experience you (and certainly plenty of others) describe actually practically affects your gallery-going experience. Is it a matter of gallery staff not making themselves available to answer questions about the art? And, inasmuch as you say you "don't get this attitude at public institutions," do you find, in contradistinction, that there's always helpful staff around at the Met to field your queries? Or does your complaint issue from a more generalized sense of "coldness"?

Here in Chicago, with a few notable exceptions that do manage to emanate that distinctive Chelsea charm (e.g.), gallery staff are fairly welcoming to conversation (sometimes seemingly dying for it). This is sometimes frustrating for me, as I actually prefer my art viewing in solitude and silence (I often don't care to have to explain myself to anyone).

7/13/2006 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Simenzo said...

No one seems to complain about the $20 cost of entertainment for a typical crappy two hour Hollywood movie plus bag of popcorn.

Hmmm, in most places the cost of a movie + popcorn is half that price, less if you go to the matinee or a second-run theater.

At the risk of being condescending and patronizing, my concern about museum admission fees isn't for people with a serious interest in art (e.g., the readers of this blog). I worry about a family of relatively modest means who would like to expose their children to art, but aren't necessarily driven to do so. For them, putting up $70 in admission fees may be prohibitive.

7/13/2006 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous bnonymous said...

Hey, call me a fundamentalist, but I think big publically funded institutions should be free. However, I don't live in the real world, or at least inasmuch as I do, I think the Met's pay-what-you-like and audacious admission fee is a pretty good compromise. But still...I miss the silent, empty, echoing places museums used to be--where you go to have your life changed by the past.

7/13/2006 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a note: members of the American Association of Museums ( receive free admission to nearly all art museums nationwide. I can't remember how much I paid for my annual membership--maybe $40-50 or so for a student--but it's worth it. No lines, no admission fees.

7/13/2006 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim L said...

Re: Dan and David's questions about my "cost to psyche" comment about galleries-

David: My experience has only been in New York galleries and only on visits - i.e. I'm not a NY'er. However, I perceive I stick out like a sore thumb as "not being from 'round here" - so attitudes I get, you may not get as you may look like you belong :-). The experience I got at various times was unwelcoming, terse, condescending or insulting. However, that just may be garden-variety NY attitude somewhat amplified. And since it's been a few years since I've visited - maybe the scene has changed?

Dan: The experience affects me as a particularly sensitive person in that it creates a "dark" atmosphere where I feel like I am an uninvited interloper - not a pleasant atmosphere to view art or buy it for that matter. As for the reasonable question of me being too sensitive - well, wouldn't art lovers and art buyers tend towards that anyway? Why chase them away? As far as museums, I don't expect to find anyone to answer my queries. P.S. Apologies for hijacking the thread off-topic!

7/13/2006 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

If you think visual artists whine about money (yes, I whine about it too), then check out William Faulkner's letters. If you can find one which doesn't beg for money, I'd love to see it.

I guess I view artists paying to see art in museums the way I view artists constantly being asked to donate work for non-profits and charities. Feeding on your own. I do donate but I don't see any doctors donating free medical procedures to these institutions or their staffs. And don't get me ranting about galleries which have annual juried shows as a means of raising funds. I know the arts are underfunded but doesn't feeding on your own become counterproductive as a certain point?

Ok, enough whining.

7/13/2006 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

so there's a split: one side feels the folks who can pay the fee should put up and shut up

the other side feels museums should be free to all

I fall somewhere inbetween. I don't mind paying full price for entry if I'm making a day of it, but sometimes I'm just popping in quickly for research or whatever, and the full fee then seems too much.

yes, membership solves that, but I can't buy membership to every museum in town (well, I could if I didn't eat on Thursdays, but...)

re: galleries costing emotionally or psychically (sp?)...I get that, but the rewards far outweigh the momentary discomfort of having some gallerina look down her/his nose at you.

7/13/2006 04:50:00 PM  
Anonymous danonymous said...

I forgot to mention....MOMA has an artist pass available for $25 a year, renewable once. A few other museums have similar deals. The hitch is that you have to have been in a show, any kind of show once in the last two years.
If you haven't, you can always have a friend photoshop your name onto someone's group announcement and voila? I hope you do not mistake this for advocating dishonesty. I am simply advocating creativity.

7/13/2006 05:16:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

having some gallerina look down her/his nose at you.

If you look at someone who's looking down their nose at you, you're probably looking up their nose. I avoid that experience whenever possible.

Out here in LA I find the full range of attitudes in galleries. Some gallerini are detached and unavailable, and others are incredibly friendly. Kind of like a sampling of people you'd find anywhere. Okay, more of them are wearing black, but you get the idea.

7/13/2006 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Now. The donation racket. That is a subject for an open thread! It is the art world feeding on it's own and hurting it's most vulnerable members! You gota love institutions that won't let you in. Then asking for donated works.

7/13/2006 05:59:00 PM  
Blogger serena said...

Hey Ed! What's the link to 'one of their prized paintings is a fake'? I'm dying to know, and the link is broken!

And re: gallerists and their ilk looking down at you--it's your choice how to respond to that. You can get your nose out of joint (so to speak) or you can just think, "Probably an intern getting paid $10 an hour, or nothing, to organize databases all day," or "What a snob. This dealer will regret her rudeness when I become hugely famous, one day."

7/13/2006 06:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Ruiz said...

I'm from Chicago, and when the news about their losing the "suggested" part of the donation came out, my first thought was "guess I'll have to stick to Tuesdays." The AIC has that admission-free tuesday every week, funded by Ford I think, which is probably the best thing in the world for the museum; does the Met have one of these too?

7/13/2006 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Hey, if they're suffering from a deficit, maybe they could sell a couple pieces from the works they have in storage. Nobody ever sees them anyway, so they won't be missed.

7/13/2006 09:05:00 PM  
Blogger Cooky Blaha said...



END OF F-ING STORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


7/13/2006 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Well, if it really is a Duccio, I think it can be fairly well described as priceless.

7/13/2006 11:49:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

So I can trade my Klimt for three Duccios, and still get 15 mil in change? Cool!

7/14/2006 12:48:00 AM  
Blogger beebe said...

I love the click my nickle makes when I put it down on counter at the Met. I still get my little admission tab and I've yet to get a dirty look. But I also make sure I get a martini on the roof when the weather is amicable.

7/15/2006 02:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

I totalle agree with the idea of selling a couple secondary works.

I think the Met should be free.
Or it should be under 5 dollars.

This is not the leisure of contemporary arts (Moma, Whitney, etc..). It's not just about art. It's about culture and history.

If you can't provide that to your people than you are really darn poor a country.

Dont tell me the Met has to pay taxes??

I never pay full price at the Met because I dont agree that it should be that price. When it comes to that price I will pay but I will find it sad. This museum, especially because of its place and mandate, should do everything to find money elsewhere and not make the people pay.

This said, at 20 the Moma is always full so I doubt the Met would be empty if they start charging, but in its case I will question its ethic or the ethics
of people in power to make it be free.

About the faces of people at the counter: they wont necessarely pay full admission either. I think it's the museum bosses that should relieve them from this hard task of always adjust to the client by making it free or 5 dollars.

If by 20 dollars you only get one person out of 20 to actually pay 20 than what's the point?


Cedric Caspesyan

7/20/2006 12:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Museum ticket prices are a big rip-off.

Museum staff are over paid, and cuts the general public from art. The museums buy fakes (i.e. the 50 million dollar new fake Duccio at the Met) without checking and consulting with a full range of experts about the purchase of the art by fakes. It is an outrage that the Modern and the Met charges 20 dollars to get in. What poor person can afford that huge price to get in?

Go to any book on the artist, Duccio, and you will see a known Duccio painting having hundreds of times more detail in his painted figures, than the Metropolitan’s fake Duccio. Look at the Met's fake Duccio painted child, who has a stump for a hand. One will never see that in a real Duccio painting. In a real Duccio painting, his figures have perfect proportions in the painting. The 50 million dollars, the Met spent on the fake could have helped the museum in so many other areas.

There are many reasons museums are not rock concerts and there are no comparisons. For one, rock concerts are not supported by tax money.

p.s. When I said the museum staffs are overpaid, I meant to say the curators and top administration people are being way over paid and not the hard workers who work on the floor of the museum everyday.

7/27/2006 04:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Ryan Thompson said...

I googled the words 'vigo painting' and came to this blog. Apparently somebody had linked or posted a snapshot of that scary old painting from the Ghostbusters movie? :p I was wondering whatever happened to it after the movie was over.

7/13/2007 06:05:00 AM  

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