Friday, July 14, 2006


The Met Collects the Rent

Harold Holzer, the Metropolitan Museum's senior vice president for external affairs, thanked me yesterday for my favorable admissions-fee story. It must be time, then, for the curmudgeonly CultureGrrl to bite the hand that stroked her.

So lets dissect a disturbing first for the Met: its upcoming Masterpieces of French Painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1800-1920, touring next year to the the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. As the images on the Houston website show, its 135 paintings include some of the Met's tastiest Impressionist and Post-Impressionist crowd-pleasers.

Sure to attract hordes (as did the Museum of Modern Art's masterpieces compendium in 2004, which also traveled to Houston and Berlin), this show marks the Met's sorry entry into the growing field of museums that use their collections as cash cows, renting out blockbusters for big bucks. The upcoming Met blockbuster, as Holzer told me, is an "opportunistic event," made possible by the need to remove the museum's French 19th-century paintings from the walls while those galleries are expanded. It is, he said, intended to "raise funds for this construction"---the first time that the Met has structured a traveling exhibition as a big moneymaker.

Houston will up its admission fee from $7 to $15 for those wanting to see this show. The Met, as I observed in yesterday's post, doesn't believe in charging extra for special exhibitions on its own premises. But, in this instance, it's apparently happy to let others do it.

Ironically, when the Met's director, Philippe de Montebello, was recently asked (at a NY Times-sponsored symposium, Mar. 6) how much other museums pay for borrowing and displaying Met-owned objects, he replied, "The loans are not rentals. They are not paid for." The borrowers, he said, just reimburse the Met for its expenses.

This collegiality used to be the norm all over, and, until now, laudably remained so at the Met. But with its upcoming show, the Met joins the ranks of the Louvre and the Hermitage, which have no qualms about bolstering their own finances at the expense of sister institutions. (For a better role model, see my previous post on Clark Art Institute's loan show of Impressionist masterpieces.)

Whatever happened to building buildings the old-fashioned way, through the generosity of donors? I guess that with the disappearance, some years ago, of financier André Meyer's name from the Met's 19th-century European galleries, naming rights just aren't what they used to be.

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