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Musing on museum money, Monet and ‘recommended’ entry fees

Jay MacDonald

Musing on museum money, Monet and 'recommended' entry fees

Picture yourself at the entrance to the lovely Musee d’Orsay art museum in Paris. Or, if that’s a stretch, the ticket counter at whatever the French equivalent of NASCAR is, maybe L’NASCAR-fe’. Anyway, you’re in line and beneath the posted admission price, in small print, it reads “recommande’.” What do you do?

Since you don’t speak French and don’t want to come off as the ugly American, chances are you hand over your credit card instead of making it into an international incident. Maybe you don’t even notice the foreign word at all.

Only later, when you consult a translation app, do you find out that the price you paid was merely recommended (“recommande”); you could have parted with far fewer euros had you known.

You now appreciate how some visitors, foreign and domestic alike, feel about having their cards sideswiped by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one of the finest museums in the world. So life-affirming are the priceless Renoirs, Monets and Picassos within the Met that the $25 recommended adult admission would seem like a bargain to anyone – were it not for that whole “recommended” part.

Which is why three angry art lovers — two Czechs and a New Yorker — have filed a class-action suit against the Met to get their money back.

Well, most of it anyway; the Met’s policy for 40 years or so has been that you must donate something to gain admission, even if it’s a copper commemorative portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

The suit claims that the Met not only deceived customers who paid by credit card in recent years by automatically charging the recommended $25, it also sold memberships that touted free admission when in fact admission is already virtually free to all.

“The museum was designed to be open to everyone, without regard to their financial circumstances,” said the anggry art lovers’ attorney, Arnold Weiss. “But instead, the museum has been converted into an elite tourist attraction.”

The Met’s response? Balderdash, poppycock and fiddle-faddle.

“The idea that the museum is free to everyone who doesn’t wish to pay has not been in force for nearly 40 years,” Met spokesman Harold Holzer fired back, noting that the city itself approved the Met’s pay-what-you-wish admission in 1970. And it’s hardly a well-kept secret given that in the past fiscal year, fewer than half (41 percent) of those admitted coughed up the recommended $25, Holzer adds.

In my view, this whole kerfuffle is one of those it’s-not-the-money-it’s-the-principle smackdowns. The Met, which with its $2.58 billion investment portfolio hasn’t survived on “the gate” in more than a century, hardly qualifies as “elite” for asking for a small token of appreciation.

While the claimants may have a valid point that the rules of admission should be transparent for all to see, I’m thinking it would be very difficult to find a visitor from anywhere on this planet who felt grievously overcharged at $25 for a day at the Met.

 

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