For the past forty-four years the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has followed a deceptive practice of “pay what you wish but we’ll lie and browbeat and manipulate you to make you pay more.” In four pithy chapters this book explores the Met’s admission policy, first as a social fact reflecting the wider dynamics of society as a whole, second as a historical development based in contested American values from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, and finally as a wider reflection of global capitalism in the twenty-first century. Jump Jim Corot returns to the Museum's roots in deeply egalitarian and American principles, to the financial interests that have thwarted these principles, and to the increasing influence of those interests in the new Global Art World.
Every man, woman and child... has an inherent right to be able to see, at least occasionally, good works of art... It is part of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ which our Declaration of Independence declares to be our American birthright.
— Robert De Forest, President, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1919.
Tell your next boyfriend
I am a Communist : I believe that all things belong to those who love them most.
I] THE THREAT AT THE MET
“Thirty-five years lecturing at the Met, and I'm still trying to figure out why we continue to pay for admission to a museum that's free by law, by tradition and by right.”
“Which comes first, and how are the two related: raising the money, or turning your museum visit into a game of Cultural Roulette?
You could ask yourself the question, art-lover: Do I feel lucky?”
II] WORKERS' COMP
“People were naturally wise, Americans even more so; they were capable of making up their own minds; they were perfectly capable of improving themselves, by themselves. The purpose of Society was to remove all barriers that prevented men (and women as well, as [Calvert] Vaux and Emerson made clear) from pursuing the finer things of life, be they trees, artworks or scientific specimens—you know, that Pursuit of Happiness thingie.”
“US President Rutherford B. Hayes wrapped up the ceremony with a four-word definition of the Museum’s mission: free, popular art education' Which part of 'free,' 'popular,' 'art' and 'education' don’t you understand?”
“In 1885 an outraged trustee wrote, [...] 'Now they think the Museum is a public institution, in the management of which the public has a voice. They must be forced to think of it as a private institution...'”
III] THE PENETRALIA
“There was a widespread sense among the cultured that Culture itself was contagious—in a good sense. Culture inoculated against lack of Culture, much as chickenpox inoculated against smallpox.”
“Marx had dismissed as a cruel joke Carey’s idea that the worker could become a capitalist through hard work and dedication; even more so through some kind of self-realization.”
“Among the self-defined progressives of the Art World [Benjamin Ives] Gilman passes for a museological child molester... he did not think museums should be 'didactic' by proactively seeking out the public whose experience they hoped to structure.”
“Then [Joe] Papp moved to set up Free Shakespeare for the rich and poor alike in Central Park... Papp was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to answer charges of Communism.”
“The Times had 'cultivated a rising hysteria' against the Civil Rights Movement; in the following decades it would refine this hysteria as a tool of New York City politics... ”
“If the Met were trying to keep out white men there’d be penis-measuring devices at every door.”
IV] WAG THE DEGAS
“... Then there were those Nazi rallies where the visitor was strongly encouraged to pay out as much as he could in order to provide a quantifiable measure of enthusiasm: Triumph of the Consumer Will.”
“Some years ago a couple of culture scholars pointed out the contradiction between screening out the undesirables and legitimating a culture of consumption in museums... This is where Baumol’s Dilemna comes in, also known as Baumol’s Disease, aka the Curse of Baumol, more accurately Return of the Falling Rate of Profit.”
“The City offers generous tax subsidies for cultural institutions, especially cultural institutions forced to take over other the property of other competing cultural institutions... all 'in service to the public'—along with a couple of zillion-dollar condos.”
“Why would the New York Times and others tell us every day about the mobs and mobs and masses and crowds coming to the Museum, if it weren’t true? Do museums have Weapons of Mass Construction?”
"MOVE ON, FOLKS, THERE'S NOTHING TO SEE....”