Thursday, July 13, 2006


Lowry and de Montebello on Admission Fees

For those of you who just got to this post, thanks to the mention in Roberta Smith's July 22 NY Times article, you can link to my other posts related to the Met's admission-fee hike here, here, here, here and here. (Do you think I'm overdoing it?)

Here's the post you came here for:

Relevant to the current brouhaha over museum admissions fees are these comments by Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, and Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, excerpted from a roundtable discussion by major museum directors published in Whose Muse: Art Museums and the Public Trust. (The Met has just announced an increase of its suggested admission fee for non-senior adults to $20, effective Aug. 1. MoMA instituted the same fee, as mandatory, when it reopened in November 2004, after its expansion.)

Glenn Lowry: I think there are different factors that come into play here. On one level it's almost a moral duty that museums should be free. Our collections are part of everyone's cultural heritage. We should make them available in as broad a way as possible. And an admission fee is one of the greater barriers to attendance.

Philippe de Montebello: Wait a minute. Can we be both practical and philosophical? On the matter of barriers, the people who squawk most about the cost of a museum pay huge amounts of money to go to rock concerts, sports events, all of which are very expensive. I don't buy that "barrier" thing. Philosophically, what is it about a work of art that makes it mandatory that it should be available for nothing, whereas the C Sharp Minor Quartet Opus 131 of Beethoven should be paid for, that Aida should be paid for, that Ibsen should be paid for? What is [it] about art that it shouldn't be paid for?

Glenn Lowry (later in the discussion): Part of me wants museums to be free because there is a sense that our collections and visitors' experiences of them belong to the public at large and should be available to anyone regardless of cost. Another part of me, though, says, why should it be free? Why should this treasured experience be free, especially for an entity that gets virtually no government funding? And by making it free, are we inadvertently devaluing it?

Populism or pragmatism? It seems to me that the "suggested fee" concept is still the best compromise. But it also seems to me that free admission, far from devaluing the art, is valuing the public.

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