Would I rather pay for a visit to an art gallery? Of course not. Granted, this may partly be for selfish reasons, including the ‘it’s because I’m a student’ chime. But I truly believe in there being significant merit in public art institutions being open to the public (as originally intended) free of charge.
Visiting galleries and artworks itself, is undeniably seen by many as shrouded in pretentiousness and grounded in class structures.
This view is not helped by the likes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A voluntary donation of $25 is asked, almost demanded, upon entry. When I visited I felt required to pay.
The idea of an art gallery often seen in this way is not helped by the likes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where a ‘voluntary’ (and almost aggressively demanded) donation of $25 upon entry is asked, that I admit, I subsequently felt required to pay when I visited in 2016.
I left this institution questioning how can we begin to move art out of this restrictive circle when the likes of one of the most famous galleries in the world reinforces a financially discriminatory feel.
The conversation surrounding art should be democratic
The answer is that it is not going to be happening anytime soon if places like these either outright charge visitors, or in the Met’s case, present an entrance fee as a ‘donation’. The latter is almost more alienating than the former.
The reverse of the above means galleries and museums are constantly having to justify funding by the public purse in the UK. And rightly so. But there is a win-win.
Financial situations can be largely helped; primarily through increasing one-off exhibitions that people are often more willing to voluntarily pay for. Anselm Kiefer’s retrospective at the Royal Academy, or even Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate Modern for example.
One-off retrospectives, collections or exhibitions, on show for a limited time only, become a tempting way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Permanent collections, as their title suggests, do not have this restrictive timeframe for viewing. It is hardly surprising most have no urgent desire to visit and subsequently pay. Leaving permanent collections in particular, open for free and general viewing for everyone is something that will actively help dilute the idea of art as an activity of the rich.
The conversation surrounding art should be democratic, an impossible ideal when entry fees rule that art is created purely for the eyes of those who can afford to view it.