Billionaires Hold Art Hostage

The privileged may enjoy the new MOMA.

To grand applause New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), reopened in midtown Manhattan on November 20th, 2004. Home to works of art like Van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889), Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Matisse’s Dance (1909), and Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Cropped Hair (1940), MOMA possesses a world class collection like no other.

But there is another side to this vaunted institution, and the bourgeois art world is mute regarding the calamity.

While many have questioned the wisdom of MOMA’s relocation and renovation (a project that cost $425 million), the true outrage is to be found in MOMA increasing admission charges by 67%, making it the most expensive museum in America. The institution will now charge visitors $20 per entry. The New York Daily News irately ridiculed the move, “Hey, we don’t wanna BUY the art!”

MOMA’s steep admission price marks an ominous trend, that of transforming art museums into privatized establishments where only the wealthy can afford entry. While a $20 dollar ticket will not prevent most people from visiting once a year, only rich persons can afford to be regular guests. All of society will suffer as a consequence.

Gone are the days when art students and other aspiring artists could pore over a museum’s collection at little or no cost. High entry fees constitute an irreparable loss for low income people seeking inspiration and stimulation from art.

The terrible irony is that, as in the past, up and coming artists can’t afford steep admission prices to view great works of art. MOMA has effectively abandoned its most celebrated purpose… that of being an institution that inspires artists.

An unsatisfactory sop offered to working people regarding admission prices came from the investment bank, JP Morgan Chase, whose philanthropy assures the new museum’s opening day will be free to the public. But that is clearly not enough.

While the privileged may enjoy the new MOMA, the rest of New York’s citizens… and indeed the world’s people, are denied access to what should be freely enjoyed by all. Art does not solely belong to those with money, it is the shared treasure and heritage of all humankind.

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