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Posts Tagged ‘anand giridharadas’

If you saw a sign in a museum saying that the suggested entry fee for students was $8, would you ask if you could pay $2? Would you even ask what the sign meant?

Museums may be taking too much for granted about what people know.

All summer, after classes, Chanel Baldwin hung out in the lobby of the Brooklyn Museum for the air-conditioning. She didn’t understand that the $8 “suggested” student admission was merely suggested. So she got to know intimately the only painting that was in the lobby, and she thought about what was meant by the details surrounding the black man on the horse in “Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps,” by Kehinde Wiley.

One day when her cousin was cooling in the lobby with Chanel, NY Times reporter Anand Giridharadas showed up, explaining that they could go through the entrance gate without paying. “No donation today, thank you,” Giridharadas said to the cousins’ astonishment.

“The gates parted,” writes the reporter. “We received green tags to prove our bona fides. … The first room set [Chanel] alight and held her rapt until she had to leave. There was no label too tedious to read, no piece undeserving of her scrutiny. …

“ ‘Look at the detail on it,’ she said of a Fred Wilson mirror, gasping.

“A piece called ‘Avarice,’ by Fernando Mastrangelo, gripped Ms. Baldwin. It appeared from afar like a classic Aztec sun stone. But she got up close. Traced her fingers over it. Went to one side, looked at it; went to the other side, considered it that way. She noticed that the piece was made of corn, and then detected a toothpaste tube, soda bottles and cowboy hats lurking on the surface, all crackling with meaning.

“Watching her,” says Giridharadas, “I realized how the inadvertent exclusion from these rooms must have trained her eyes. … New York is run on the kinds of understandings that kept the cousins in the lobby, with so many places formally open to anyone but protected in their exclusivity by invisible psychic gates.

“Ms. Baldwin suggested a more honest approach, since people tend to think you have to pay: ‘They should just put a sign out telling us that it’s somewhat free.’ ” More here.

Suzanne’s Mom admits that she might not have known the secret code either. But then, she always had the $8.

Photo: Karsten Moran for The New York Times
Chanel Baldwin exploring the Brooklyn Museum after learning that “suggested” when admission fees are “suggested,” that could mean free.

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