November 17, 2004

Y Tu MoMA Tambien

While a few "right on"s and "elitist"s trickled in over the weekend, and my favorite--"MoMA is a corporation, the new building is a corporate HQ. You are a foot soldier"--just arrived yesterday morning, the quality of the responses to my little MoMA admissions price challenge did not improve with time.

I should've wrapped this up and posted the winners a couple of days ago, but I've been too busy hobnobbing with a bunch of MoMA bigwigs (10%) and a kid (99%, Yeah, it doesn't add up. Tell me about it.)

The first two people (who didn't call me a tool, that is) both mentioned federal underwriting for all museum admission, even though it was a fantasyland idea when Kurt Andersen mentioned it in early 2001. Can anyone today seriously wonder where this plots on Bush's radar? Frankly, the only way I can imagine getting even a dime of government funding in the foreseeable future is to convince Donald Rumsfeld to cough up a billion dollars from the $10 [?] billion oversight-free slush fund he was granted as part of that $75bn Iraq appropriation bill. Ain't NEVER gonna happen.

I took heat from several respondents for my castigation of "yuppie straw men" with their $10/day macchiato-habits. I'm sorry, but as the proud caretaker of a $5/day [Diet] Coke habit, I know who I'm talking about: people who can afford at least a couple of $20 visits a year, but who prefer a good grousing to carrying their own cultural weight. I still feel that the loudest $20 critics fall into this demo, as do MoMA's greatest potential audience--bodies who might realistically be enticed through the doors.

That said, Felix Salmon and Todd Gibson, correctly, I think, identified the constituencies who would actually be impacted by having to pay $20 to visit MoMA: artists, artists-to-be (students and otherwise), and various groups of people who actually can't afford the $20 admission.

The real harm, both say, is the prohibitive cost of multiple visits. If $20 is too expensive, it follows that a $75 membership is untenable. I don't worry too much, frankly; resourceful people who want to go to MoMA repeatedly will find a way, and I'm not talking about collecting cans on the side of the highway. There's an annual pass for working artists, something that's little known outside its target market. Members of the American Association of Museums get into museums around the country--not just MoMA--for as little as $35/year. Hell, I kept my out-of-state student membership for a couple of years after I moved to the city; the monthly calendar went to my mom's house, but I had my card for less than half the regular membership price during my post-college, pre-making enough money days. I'm not saying, "scam the museum,"; just pointing out that a little legwork and resourcefulness can mitigate much of the critics' imagined downside of the $20 ticket.

For would-be visitors who don't fall into these categories--Todd mentions new immigrants; Felix would-be artists out of school; Adam Gopnik the classic New York characters who made daily visits to, say, crochet a version of Guernica--I'm sure the Museum's outreach programs and free Fridays might never seem like enough. At the ribboncutting this morning, Agnes Gund and Bloomberg both discussed other, expanded education programs which will be housed in a new 100,000SF education building as soon as it's done. So after the curmudgeonly fun and indignationfest passes by, I hope the malcontents will take another, deeper assessment of things when the museum's firing on all cylinders. And if you're still pissed, by all means, say what needs to be said. For the right now, both Felix and Todd offer excellent ideas--my personal favorite is 2-day tickets, which helped me manage my Cremaster fatigue last year at the Guggenheim.

But as Todd and Tyler roll their eyes at Target's gushing PR/branding-via-art-support, I'm reminded of the smug indignation in the early nineties over Philip Morris' exhibition underwriting. The debate over funding for the arts is not new, it's not going away, and there still are no magic solutions. When The Met faced operating shortfalls in the mid-nineties, no one could figure out how to fund that, either, and they had to close half its galleries on alternating days.

Last night outside the artists' preview, I sought out Dan Levenson, whose FrEEMoMA.org death-by-elitism rant prompted me two wade into this debate in the first place. He's scored some publicity wins--something every true New Yorker has to admire--and helped put the $20 ticket into many more ledes than it might have been. I told him I thought his take was inaccurate and unproductive, at least to finding pragmatic solutions to getting people beyond the museum's predisposed constituency inside.

While the American free market system may generate enough billionaires who want to fund buildings and art, it apparently doesn't generate enough billionaires--or politicians--to fund museums' day-to-day operating expenses.

Net net: Felix gets a pair of my passes, Todd gets the 10 he challenged me for so that he can pass them along to people he knows who can't afford the twenty per [and contrary to what Tyler may suggest, some of my best friends are poor.], and Filip from the Homeless Museum gets a pair, partly in recognition of his own artseducation efforts, and partly to spare the MoMA ticket desk from counting at least 22 lbs [i.e., $40] of pennies.


MoMA's $20 Admission
[Felix Salmon]
Open Letter to Greg Allen [Todd Gibson, From the Floor]
The Homeless Museum
FrEEMoMA.org
$20: Such An Easy Target [Modern Art Notes]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: November 17, 2004.

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