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The Price of Art

By Steve Ramos · January 19th, 2005 · Arts Beat
A friend recently asked me what I considered "must-see" from a trip I just made to New York City. My answer needed no consideration -- visiting the newly reopened Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan and experiencing Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi's beautiful new building.

"But it costs $20 to get in," he gulped, steadying his cup of coffee.

A $20 art museum ticket is unheard of in hospitable Ohio. The Dayton Art Institute, Cleveland Museum of Art and Cincinnati Art Museum all offer free admission with the exceptions of added prices for special exhibitions. (By comparison, the Taft Museum of Art charges adults $7, the Contemporary Arts Center $7.50.)

Art, like many things in life, is a matter of getting what you pay for. At the re-opened MoMA, Taniguchi's expansive, serene galleries in the new addition make the $20 general admission ticket a better value than any free art museum that might have little worth seeing.

If you head to Mount Adams for a stroll through the Cincinnati Art Museum, the art is free, which might partly explain why more people aren't rushing through its doors.

Something available for free, a diehard consumer would argue, can't possibly be worthwhile. Yet local visitors will line up outside Cincinnati Art Museum doors to spend $12 to view the ancient artifacts on display in Petra: Lost City of Stone or $6 for the monthly "One World Wednesday" parties held on museum grounds.

There's no such thing as an art-loving cheapskate who stays out of museums due to admission prices. They'll pay, whether it's $20 for MoMA or $12 for Petra, as long as there's something they want to see.

The new MoMA ticket rate -- a 67 percent price hike from before (an increase from the previous $12 entrance fee) -- begs a key question: How much should someone expect to spend on an art museum visit? How should paying to view art compare to other leisure activities?

Travel down Mount Adams to the riverfront movie multiplex in Newport, and the cost of a movie ticket and a box of popcorn begin to put things in perspective. Viewing art, when compared to other attractions, is downright affordable.

After a high-price breakfast at a Midtown coffee shop, MoMA, the most expensive art museum to visit in the United States, no longer seems out of line with the cost of living in New York City.

This is what a $20 MoMA ticket gets you: the experience of their soaring new lobby; the new display of the museum's permanent collection (more art is on display thanks to several hundred thousand additional feet of gallery space); a series of second floor contemporary art galleries; and an awe-inspiring, massive sixth floor gallery that might be the most tranquil public space in all of Manhattan.

I visited early on a bitterly cold Sunday morning, but I wasn't early enough to avoid a line snaking into the lobby to buy tickets. For these visitors waiting in the cold, young and old, $20 was a fair price to ask for the experience of timeless art and beautiful surroundings.



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