Nina In New York: Art Is For the People, And The People Are Revolting.
Best Of: NYC Art
A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
By Nina Pajak
I was raised with a keen appreciation for and connection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
My family, primarily spearheaded by my paternal grandmother, were longtime supporters. Perhaps not in the financial sense as compared to some of the other families in New York, but you know. Spiritually. Cosmically. Personally. Whatever. My grandmother loved the Met with all her heart and soul, and relished every opportunity to take us around as often as possible, marching me and my brother through her favorite wings, before her favorite exhibits and halls, filling our soft young minds with every detail she knew about the pieces therein. Of course, our grandmother’s docent work wasn’t exactly standard issue.
“Look at how beautiful the brush strokes are. He was a genius. He died of syphilis.”
“Aren’t these statues marvelous? Notice how all the penises have been stolen or broken off.”
“This cafeteria has the BEST tuna salad sandwich in the city. No dessert no refills.”
We loved it because she loved it, and then we loved it because we were old enough to understand everything there was to love about it. We knew who Philippe De Montebello was before we knew who the Governor of New York was. We listened to stories about artists dying of venereal diseases, the fate of art under various 20th century fascist regimes, and various ways in which it might be deduced that non-Jewish, brilliant minds were probably actually Jewish. We were raised to look forward to eating at the cafeteria with the same gusto one looks forward to eating at the French Laundry.
And so it broke my heart a little bit when I got older and began going on my own. Because only then did I realize how absurd the “suggested” (and now, “recommended”) admission costs were. I remember once standing in the Great Hall and being approached by another college-aged girl. She handed me her admission pin and explained that she was passing it on so someone could use it without having to pay. I didn’t really understand, because I’d only intended to pay with whatever change I had in my purse and maybe a stray button or two. But she probably had shelled out $25.00 and went on a whole big “art is for the people” kick, for which I can’t blame her. It is for the people. And not just the people observant or fluent in English enough to understand the true meaning of “recommended.” But then, I thought, perhaps I’m just a cheapskate. This is an institution which deserves support. Then I made a long argument in my head about how I would pay more when I could pay more, and I felt better about the pieces of lint I was about to deposit onto the ticket desk.
So now a group is suing the Met for being sneaky sneaksters, basically, and I’m again of two minds. On the one hand, I hate to see my beloved Met under attack. On the other, this has long seemed like an injustice to the legions of tourists who haplessly fork over cash when New York natives are slapping down a buck and calling it a day. True to my word, I joined with a low-level annual membership now that I’m older and more liquid, in part as what I feel is a worthy donation, and in part to skip the line for the Alexander McQueen exhibit a couple of years back. I think the Met deserves money, and though they’re hardly hurting for funds, I shudder to think how steeply their income would drop if everyone who wandered through started tossing over Canadian pennies and coins that predate the Euro. Perhaps if they’d simply lower the recommended amount to something people might feel better about paying, more people would step up rather than punk out. Either way, there does need to be more transparency here. Come clean, Met, make us proud, and just start fleecing people more egregiously in concessions and gifts.
But I will say that it makes no sense for the Met to be singled out like this. Just across town, the Museum of Natural History employs an identical admissions policy. And the MoMA and the Guggenheim are just insanely expensive for everyone. But I guess that’s beside the point.
Anyway, sometimes people deserve to get robbed with their eyes open. I leave you with this anecdote: I was waiting in line at the MNH one afternoon years ago, and I happened to overhear the lamentations of a couple distressed by the cost of admission for them and their three children. After waiting in line for what had to be at least 40 minutes, they’d finally gotten close enough to see the “recommended” cost per head. They were hemming and hawing and considering cancelling the whole day’s activity. So I politely stuck my nose into their business and cheerfully informed them that the price they were seeing was just a suggestion and not an obligation. They could pay whatever they wanted for their entire family! Good news! Day is saved! Proceed with your edutainment and profoundly rich cultural learnings for your spongey-minded young ones! No need to thank me. Except that they didn’t. They stared at me like I’d just told them I’d like to purchase one of their children and then sell it to the circus for profit, and then they turned around and ignored me. I hope they paid $200 that day, and I hope they shelled out extra for the stupid extra butterfly show or whatever costly exhibition was on offer.
I forget my point. The end.