The Met Needs Your Generosity: and Leonard Lauder’s

Credit: Trees at l'Estaque, 1908 (oil on canvas), Braque, Georges (1882-1963) / Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark / De Agostini Picture Library / The Bridgeman Art Library
Credit: Trees at l’Estaque, 1908 (oil on canvas), Braque, Georges (1882-1963) / Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark / De Agostini Picture Library / The Bridgeman Art Library

On April 4th, Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sent around a Press Release explaining the museum’s “admissions policy” — a policy which many consider misleading at best, fraudulent at worst.

The announcement followed widespread reporting on two lawsuits brought against the museum by members who found the Met’s signage and admissions practices troubling but had failed to effect change from the inside. Responding to a landslide of negative press, Campbell sent out e-mail that linked to a message on the Met’s site expounding upon the legal basis, as well the alleged necessity, for the Met to garner donations from the public in order to finance it’s exhibits and services.

After explaining that the Met relies on “many sources—including Membership, gifts and grants, corporate contributions, merchandise sales, restaurant revenue, and endowment income” to meet its current $250 million a year operating budget, and stating that “admission revenue is critical among” these sources of funding, Campbell makes his pitch:

“Does the Met hope its visitors pay as generously as they can? Of course! Without your generosity, we might still be the quaint little museum in the park that few visited in the 1880s—with none of the glorious new galleries and engaging programs we are now able to provide to the more than six million people who come through our doors each year.”

Was Campbell telling us that the Metropolitan Museum of art, despite sitting rent-free on city property, despite its long lists of corporate contributors, its grants and gifts from wealthy patrons, and its government subsidies, needed to fish for dollars from the pockets of unsuspecting tourists and shy students who took the signs at font-face value and forked out $25 suggested admission when they could have entered for free? Are we to think of the Mighty Met as a poor Dickensian waif, her soot-covered hand extended stealthily toward the pockets of passersby?

Answer: Meet Leonard A Lauder

Well, on Tuesday, right after we’d asked that question, and before we could get our breath, the museum proudly announced that it had been gifted a 1.1 Billion Dollar cash cow in the form of cosmetics tycoon Leonard A Lauder’s entire collection of cubist art. [ ]

The collection of 78 cubist works, meticulously collected over something like 40 years, is comprised of 33 works by Picasso, 17 by Braque, 14 by Gris, and 14 by Leger. Lauder’s collection, which may, he says, continue to grow (and be gifted to the Met) is noted for its clear focus on works of historical significance. Lauder’s curator of 26 years, Emily Braun sites “ ‘The Trees at L’Estaque’ as an example. It “is considered one of the very first Cubist pictures,” she told the New York Times, “It created a new form of pictorial space that Braque arrived at from his close study of Cézanne’s landscapes.”

The collection “will transform the museum” the news release said. And, indeed, the Met’s cubist collection which used to be sorely wanting — art critic Holland Cotter once noted that the Met had been “content with a tasting menu of Blue Period, Rose Period and neo-Classical fare”—now rivals that of the Museum of Modern Art.

“In one fell swoop this puts the Met at the forefront of early-20th-century art. It is an unreproducible collection, something museum directors only dream about,” Campbell told the Times.

Lauder’s generosity puts him at the top of the list of Forbes list of high ranking philanthropists. [Check out their slideshow] On top of the billion dollar collection, his, and other trustees’ and supporters’ money is going to support a revamp of the Mets modern and contemporary galleries, and a 22 million dollar endowment for a new research center for modern art at the Met.

An extraordinary gift to our City?

“This is an extraordinary gift to our Museum and our City, Lauder said. Um. So now, can we change the admissions signs?

LINKS
Cubist works worth $1bn donated to Metropolitan Museum of Art

Leonard Lauder’s $1.1 Billion Cubist Art Gift To Met Is One Of Largest Donations In History

A Billion-Dollar Gift Gives the Met a New Perspective (Cubist)

Who’s Paying The Met’s Rent?

via Galavanting Green Cheese
via Galavanting Green Cheese

The sign says ADMISSION in large letters and lists a charge of $25 for adult visitors. So you must pay $25. No, wait: the small print says, “Recommended” so it’s free but you are asked to volunteer something along the lines of $25. But, that can’t be because it also touts “No extra charge for special exhibitions” — so that means there is a charge for admissions, so…what do you pay?

Well, If you are duped by the large print, you pay $25; if you feel guilty or cheap in the face of the sign and the cashier, you pay $25; and if you are buying tickets online you’ll find that the Met sells them for $25 with no caveat. Only those in the know will pay like a New Yorker, a voluntary fee of anywhere between 1 and ten dollars.

The signage is confusing (and the sales policies more so) and no one doubts that the obfuscation of your right to enter for free is deliberate: the museum would like to make some money.

That is why two recent law-suits brought against the hallowed New York institution in response to it’s deceptive admissions policies reveal that it’s time to interrogate, not just the disingenuous signage, but the entire body of assumptions regarding who the museum and its art belong to, and who should pay for its maintenance.

Two Suits, One Firm, and Harold Holzer

To begin, let’s get some very important facts straight: the Metropolitan Museum resides on Central Park land which it uses free of charge in exchange for its service to the public. The building is leased rent-free from the city under the same stipulation.
“The Met,”  says architect Theodore Grunewald, who, along with fellow long-time member Patricia Nicholson, filed a suit in November of last year, “is as much the property of citizens as the trustees who manage the art inside.”

Grunewald and Nicholson argue that the Met’s  “recommended” admission charges violate the terms of its 1983 lease with the city which allows the Museum to use the property in exchange for public free admission two evenings and five days a week.  But the museum is claiming that city policy changes in the 1970s allowed them to begin charging a voluntary admission fee.

Filed by the law firm, Weiss & Hiller, this suit which is still pending, cites a survey which found that 85 % of nonmembers polled (out of a pool of 360 visitors) thought entry fees were required, and requests that the state court in Manhattan block the Museum from charging any fees at all. Meantime the same law firm has filed a new suit!

Did You Buy Tickets with a Credit Card?

On Tuesday the Met was hit with a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of three visitors, Filip Saska and Tomas Nadrchal of the Czech Republic, and museum member, Stephen Michelman of Manhattan. They are claiming that the Met “engages in an intentional campaign of misdirection that includes misleading signage and fraudulent marketing.” This newest complaint also asks for an injunction, as did the one in November, but adds a request for  “unspecified damages” to be payed to all  visitors who, in the last three years, paid for admittance with a credit card.

(In other words, if this case goes forward, Met Admission Policies + Ticket Purchase w/ Credit Card w/in last three years = Cluster Fuck)

But while  Hiller says, that they have uncovered “evidence which makes clear to us that the museum is actively misleading the public and that members of the museum’s leadership are fully aware of that fact,” the Met’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Harold Holzer, has scoffed that this is the “second attempt for publicity around the same baseless lawsuit that was filed a few months ago.”

“I don’t know what this brouhaha is all about,” he said.

The Met is not the Smithsonian

Later, he expounded further on this thought in a letter to the Huffington Post:

“Free admission was conceived of 150 years ago for an entirely government-subsidized institution, like the Smithsonian. There is no model for this kind of operation any more. The city contributes $10 million of a $240 million-dollar-budget. We rely on many crucial revenue streams to maintain our building, preserve, protect, exhibit, and publish our collections, and mount up to 25 shows a year. This lawsuit flies in the face of reality and the huge amount of responsibility and work we have in the service of our collections and our visitors.”

See Slideshow of Admittance Charges at other Museuems on The Huffington Post

MoMA’s Got a Brand New App

Today MoMA announced the release of its new app for Apple’s iPhone, and iPod Touch, now available on the App Store. It’s a free download that provides views of 32,000 works from the Museum’s collection, plus lots of very useful extras, including a dictionary of art terms, a database of artist bios, a calendar of exhibitions, film screenings, and events, and a variety of audio tours for youngsters, as well as for the visually impaired.

Continue reading “MoMA’s Got a Brand New App”

How the Met Killed The New York Senate’s De-accessioning Bill

It was the last straw, when, in 2008, the National Academy Museum sold two Hudson River School paintings in order to cover operating costs.

Public art institutions, feeling the recession and finding no recourse, had already begun to whisper about a sale here and there: Fort Ticondergoa had proposed to sell some artifacts and then withdrew the idea, and The Metropolitan Opera had put up its Chagall murals as collateral for a loan. By 2009,  Brandeis University was working with Sotheby’s on a lending program designed to avoid having to sell its entire Rose Art Museum collection.

With such threats to public art coming in ever increasing waves, a sense of urgency took over and the New York Senate, working with the Museum Association of New York and the New York Board of Regents, drafted a bill to prohibit cultural institutions from selling pieces of their collections to cover operating costs.

Continue reading “How the Met Killed The New York Senate’s De-accessioning Bill”

Culture? There’s an App for That

Toura, a New York mobile applications company that creates virtual tours will be using angel investors’ $1.5 million in seed money to develop virtual tours of cultural institutions and other attractions.

Toura on iPhone
Culture in your hand: pic from Toura's website

The Art Institute of Chicago is prepping its free multimedia app with Toura sometime in the next few weeks. The app is free and is expected to be available on a range of devices including the iPhone and iPad.

Toura claims that by handing them the keys to the virtual art space, those institutions will no longer have to worry about having an in-house technologist working on costly software programs in order to update their online content — Toura will do it for them.

The Art Institute of Chicago is always looking for innovative ways to inspire and educate the public about our collection and exhibitions,” said James Cuno, the museum’s President and Director, in a statement. “Toura’s attractive package of technology and services makes it easy for us to bring the museum’s collection to life through a series of applications on smartphones, with the first coming later this spring.”

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