In January, when we were working on the Spring 2018 issue of ARTnews (out later this month), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which for almost 50 years has been pay-what-you-wish for all, announced new compulsory admission fees for out-of-state visitors, $25 for adults. Today, those new admission fees have been implemented. It is a decision I find dismaying, but to understand why, let me tell you about my first immersive experiences at the institution.
I studied art history back when that meant squinting at slides of paintings on a light box. I had the privilege of learning about art under the late, great professor Robert Rosenblum at New York University. But being in New York was itself a privilege: when I needed to go beyond slides to view real artworks, I had, close to hand, not just any museum—I had the Met, with its matchless panoply of masterpieces. I went there frequently.
My relationship with the museum went beyond the purely intellectual. I found a certain solace in the old stones that make up the Met’s stately edifice and the treasures that abound inside. The objects with which I communed, and the environments in which I communed with them, still inform my visual lexicon. I gazed at a pair of young men’s tiny visages (one of them holding a falcon) reflected in a convex mirror in Petrus Christus’s 1449 painting A Goldsmith in His Shop, displayed in a room in the Robert Lehman Wing. In the center of the room was a deep-green plush velvet sofa, so that you could stand for a while contemplating the goldsmith and his patrons, and then curl up on the sofa to look some more, as though the artwork belonged to you. I took in the hot, flushed face of a battle-ready Joan of Arc as painted by Jules Bastien-Lepage in 1879; a Malian boli figure encrusted with cracked earth and sacrificial materials (according to the Met: “the blood of chickens or goats, chewed and expectorated kola nuts, alcoholic beverages, honey, metal, animal bones, vegetable matter, and sometimes millet”); and Antonio Canova’s proud Perseus holding Medusa’s head aloft over the museum’s lobby. If you stand next to him on the balcony, he will lend you some of his triumph.
Those years would have been very different if I’d been required to show identification upon entry. I was a distance runner, and many times I ran to the Met—sans identification of any kind—from the dumpy, dim-lit, little hallway of an apartment that I shared with two roommates on the then very different Lower East Side. I was often just stopping by, paying with a dime from my sweaty palm. More to the point, the entrance policy in practice now would have ruined my experience of the Met by dint of the admissions clerk learning who I was before she handed me the little pin that I bent and affixed to my shirt. It was better to be anyone. Because anyone, from anywhere, should be able to drop by the Met for a dime.
SARAH DOUGLAS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of ARTnews on page 16.