Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

In Boston, more fallout from the MFA’s $200 fee

Pin It

In a surprise development, the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston announced that it will be free to the public for 24 hours starting at 7pm on Sept. 17.

The move is a direct response to the cross-town Museum of Fine Arts’ planned $200 charge to see the recent MFA acquisition The Clock, a 24-hour-long film installation by Christian Marclay. The MFA announced yesterday that it will charge admission on a sliding scale, starting at $200 for entry at 7pm on Sept. 17, ending at 7am on Sept. 18, when entry to the MFA will be free as part of a community day. As a result, non-$200-level visitors will have the opportunity to see only half of The Clock when the MFA debuts the work. Last night the MFA reminded people via its Twitter feed, which it does not charge readers to access, that the $200 fee also includes a party. “After all, the art is really secondary to the shindig,” the Twitter feed did not add.

“It’s going to be awesome,” MFA Boston curator Jen Mergel really did say about the $200-a-head party, honest to god, I am not making up this part, I swear it.

“As part of the free celebration of our own museum and our own program, we’ll be having a party too,” ICA director Jill Medvedow told MAN. “Furthermore, we’re pleased to announce that the MFA seems to have had a moment of realization about the optics of their $200 event and is sending to our event a cake. The MFA promises to deliver the cake on a late-18th-century French plate from the MFA’s collection. [Above.] I understand that the MFA will allow our visitors to see the plate free of charge. Also, MFA director Malcolm Rogers specifically requested that we let visitors eat the cake.”

Critics were quick to criticize the MFA event as reinforcing notions that art, particularly contemporary art, is little more than a luxury good meant to be enjoyed by the privileged few. They pointed out that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which also bought a copy of The Clock, has made the work available to the public via special screenings and that it has used the potentially populist piece as a way to build a connection with its community instead of as a reminder that art is first and best accessible to the privileged class.

“That’s just outrageous,” Rogers said via a statement that was printed on thick bond paper that smelled of rosewater. “That’s like saying the Bush tax cuts only benefited the wealthy. Once we’re done soaking the rich, the rest of Mr. Marclay’s artwork will trickle down to the little people, you know, the ones for whom we exhibited Chihuly. In fact, we’re so generous that we’re letting anyone see half of all our artworks for free on Sept. 18 starting at 7am. That way anyone who can’t afford $200 to see an entire artwork can at least see half of it.”

Rogers explained that the MFA”s new ‘half-viewing’ policy was directly inspired by the Marclay: Because Marclay requires that The Clock be shown in real time, visitors who want to see the 8pm part of the artwork have to be in the gallery at 8pm, which means they’d have to pay $200 to see it. Because visitors who enter the MFA after 7 am on Sept. 18th will be able to see only half the Marclay and because they won’t be paying anything, Rogers said the museum wanted to replicate the experience of seeing The Clock. That means that freeloaders visitors will be able to see only half of all other works the MFA has on view.

Informed that many museums charged much less than $200 for access to their collections and that many others were free, Rogers snorted. “Please, I’m running a business here,” he said. Informed that he is not, in fact, running a business but a non-profit institution that has as its mission to make its art accessible to “broader constituencies,” he replied: “That’s crazy talk. We even have inventory available for rent.” [Image: ICA Boston, via Flickr user Joevare.]

Medvedow also said that her museum was working with the MFA to present a series of Sept. 17 events for people who could not afford the $200 fee at the MFA. Prime among them will be the opening of the ICA Boston’s roof to visitors, access that Medvedow said was specially requested by Rogers himself. “The MFA felt that many Bostonians might miss the metaphor it is presenting with its $200 charge, so in the spirit of institutional collegiality we asked what we could do to help,” Medvedow said. “Malcolm told me that the MFA could best get across the nuance of its $200 message by inviting people to dive from our roof into Boston Harbor. That seemed a little odd, but the MFA told me that this would be a good way of cooperatively promoting the ICA’s beautiful, waterfront location while at the same time allowing the MFA to tell average Bostonians to take a flying leap.”

Pin It


  1. daphne says:

    Many, many years ago — as a non-art-related, graduate-school transplant to Boston — I was a member of the MFA. Within a year or two, the institution made some surprising (read terrible) decisions that affected not only the perks of membership (read diminished) but the curatorial departments. At that time, I decided to renounce membership and only visit during free hours (called donation night) or by using a public-library pass that reduces the entry fee by about 75%. Every once in a while I consider becoming a member again (the greatness of the new Art of the Americas wing!), but am always held back by another appalling decision.

    Even more unfortunate is that the attitude you speak of cascades down the ranks to many who work there. On a recent donation night, I was meeting friends there, and ended up waiting in line for half an hour. I had no idea that people were there to see the Chihuly exhibit (which, frankly, would’ve been more appropriately mounted in a mall setting). It’s high summer in Boston, and the majority of the people waiting to enter were tourists. Woe betide those who asked a question of those manning the line. They were treated brusquely and sometimes rudely. The family behind me was debating whether to just skip it and go elsewhere after being yelled at and herded and told it was donation night. I assured them the collections were worth seeing, and that they didn’t have to pay

  2. daphne says:

    just as their guidebook said. They were quite intimidated and told me that they couldn’t believe the MFA wouldn’t try to be more civil to those who wanted to visit!

  3. Stephen says:

    For $200 I expect to be partying with Christian Marclay himself, not the typical wealthy museum donor (not that they’re bad people, mostly, but the ideas are with the artists).

  4. John Lenting says:

    “Let them have the scraps”, nothing has really changed since the French Revolution and why does “Christian Marclay’s” art demand such a hefty ticket price? I for one do not see the overwhelming value in his work, upper crust, somewhat out of the box performance/movie making (overated)and never mind the party goes along with it, wow how generous. If I were Barclay I would voice some type of resentment for entertaining a bunch of priviledged few. I have always been under the impression that art was meant for the masses not the priviledged few.

  5. […] on MAN: My satirical take on the situation. « Thursday links Blog Home Breaking news, Collections, Exhibitions Tweet […]

  6. Donna Dodson says:

    Most things cost more than a visit to an art museum, red sox, bruins, celtics, BSO, boston ballet, so why should art the best art in boston be free? Making art costs money, selling art costs money, the museum costs money to operate. we saw the clock at the venice biennial and it’s good- popular in a way that chihuly is, and will draw a crowd- it’s cool that the MFA wants to do something all night at the mfa in boston and I’m sure it will cost alot of money to staff it properly, maybe even to insure the art off hours, etc… Sorry that I missed the diving spectacle today at the ICA. that is truly a bizarre concept. to the mfa’s credit, they have done away with the special exhibitions room that used to be the gund gallery where you always had to fork over a hefty price to see the special shows- in favor of the new contemporary art wing. now, one admission price or membership, gets into see it all.

  7. […] world populism: Complaining about the $200 ticket prices for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ party to open its new Linde […]

  8. […] plan was criticized by many art lovers in a Boston Globe article and was pilloried elsewhere, including here on MAN. Eventually Marclay issued a statement in which he objected to the MFA’s […]

Add a Comment