Art Institute announces special hours, limits access to Matisse show
If you plan to see "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917" at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), which opened March 20—and the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune say you should—here's what to know before you go:
You can't visit the show during the AIC's free evenings, which are Thursdays, 5–8pm—unless you're a member of the museum.
Access to "Matisse" is also members-only during the first hour the Art Institute is open: Mon–Fri 10:30–11:30am; Sat, Sun 10–11am.
Anyone (well, anyone willing to pay regular admission) can visit the show Mon–Thu 11:30am–5pm; Fri 11:30am–8pm (note the late closing); and Sat, Sun 11am–5pm.
This means low-income visitors—unless they snag those elusive free passes from the Chicago Public Library—won't be able to see the show. I understand some of these rules. We need crowd control if we want to view Matisse's work rather than the backs of tourists' heads. If it's going to survive, the museum has to remind us membership has its privileges. And as I wrote when the museum announced its admission hike in March 2009, $18 for a few hours at the AIC is still a bargain—if you can spend $18 on any form of entertainment.
But the temporary restrictions remind me of the $20 fee the AIC charged last year for "Becoming Edvard Munch." In TOC's May 14, 2009 Modern Wing issue, the AIC told me its increased admission would be "an all-in fee. There's no longer any special-exhibition charge." (Spokeswoman Erin Hogan also explained the museum had postponed the increase for a few years because "we were doing so much renovation that a lot of galleries were off view. We didn’t think it was fair to charge people more when they were going to see less." Too bad the museum started curtailing certain galleries' hours this month—see Around Town editor Madeline Nusser's blog post.)
True, compelling everyone to pay regular admission for "Matisse" isn't the same as imposing a special-exhibition charge, but eliminating the free option adheres to the letter of the AIC's pledge rather than its spirit. I'll be happy if the museum gets a much-needed influx of cash. But neither AIC trustees nor ordinary taxpayers should consider maintaining public access to the arts a radical move.