New York Times art critics Holland Cotter and Roberta Smith reacted with horror, and socialist tropes, to news that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, struggling with low admission revenue, was making its “suggested fee” of $25 mandatory for non-New Yorkers: “The Museum Should Be Open to All.”
It’s surprising how much left-wing political juice is expanded beneath that benign headline. Holland Cotter led off:
Loopy as it may sound, on principle I believe major public museums should have universal free admission. You should be able to walk in off the street and see the art just as you can enter a public library and read the books on the shelf. If this country had a government that cared about its citizens rather than one that catered to its economic ruling class, we might be able to live some version of this ideal.
Never mind the expensive watches and five-figure cruises the Times tries to sell its readers.
Fellow critic Roberta Smith agreed, and Cotter continued the “ruling class” rant:
That economic ruling class, for its part, could, and should, contribute to an open-door cultural policy....
Both Koch Plaza and the Met’s fixed admissions reflect something widespread: the continual degrading and privatization of public space.
Cotter found a new angle, illegal immigration:
....I’m instinctively suspicious of, and resistant to, “carding” procedures, meaning any admission policy based on presenting personal identification, which is what the Met is asking for from New York State residents who want to keep paying what they wish. This potentially discriminates against a population of residents who either don’t have legal identification or are reluctant to show the identification they have. And it plays directly into the hands of the anti-immigrant sentiment that is now poisoning this country. I cannot remember a time when a museum’s unqualified demonstration of “doors open to all” would carry more positive -- I would say necessary -- political weight....
Smith interpreted the move through her own leftist coloring, with an attack on...the Gilded Age?
So I worry that the Met’s plan is classist, and nativist. It divides people into categories -- rich and poor, native and foreign -- which is exactly what this country does not need right now. I think this is tied to the abstract way wealth is accrued these days. In the last Gilded Age the rich had a much more literal sense of the suffering their fortunes were built on and a greater need to give back.
Cotter raised her by bring up the Jim Crow era:
In the pre-integration 1950s and early 1960s, the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama admitted black visitors only on Tuesdays. Technically, “everybody” could enter the museum, but only if they adhered to the admission policy. And that policy effectively discouraged an entire population from ever considering the museum anything but alien territory....