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The Art Institute's A Vampire, She Eats Her Kids

By Ben Schuman Stoler in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 26, 2010 4:20PM

Photo by gabrioladude
Speaking with a twentysomething at a bar the other night, we mentioned how pumped we were for the Art Institute’s new Matisse exhibition. “Oh,” she said. “I had no idea there was a Matisse exhibition there right now.”

“What do you do again?”

“I’m a painter.”

Now, obviously, not all artists know the most recent gallery or museum news. That’s fine. But this is a rather important exhibition—it’s gotten write-ups in every major Chicago and national outlet—and you would expect a painter, especially, to at least have heard that the show was coming up.

Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not like the AIC has been particularly welcoming of late.

The AIC announced this week that it will be blacking out certain galleries at certain times in order to cut costs. Which galleries in the museum, you ask? They won’t tell us. According to Erin Hogan, the AIC’s director of public affairs, we won’t know. Via TOC:

“We are trying to save a little money,” says Hogan. “We’ve always said that galleries can be closed on our website.” Although Hogan says that disclaimer generally refers to galleries closed for installation, starting in March the museum has been cordoning off select galleries in the morning and evening. “Still, the whole museum is open for most of the day,” says Hogan. “We based [closings] on what we know about gallery traffic.”

As to whether you can pick up a schedule on closings, in case you’re, say, going to the museum for the sole purpose of seeing a certain Seurat painting, the answer is no. “We’re sort of rotating—trying to figure out what works the best,” says Hogan. “It’s not permanent thing.”

The AIC also announced that on Thursday nights from 5-8—the time normally reserved as free for all—only members will be able to view the Matisse exhibition. In fairness, they are moving free time to Friday night.

It's fair that the AIC is looking for ways to fix costs and cover expenses. Private donors aren’t donating that much these days and our broke-as-hell government isn’t exactly doling out cash, either. The problem is how the AIC has gone about making up for it.

It was a year ago this month that they raised prices by 50%, even while saying the new Modern Wing had already been completely paid for. Tyler Green at MAN wrote in 2009 that the AIC relies disproportionately on admission fees. Green has written extensively about how raising admission prices “cannibalizes” visitors. Maybe that’s going a bit far, but the fact is that the more you raise prices, the easier it becomes for people to not go.

In trying times, it seems ridiculous to implement measures that will only alienate potential visitors, especially 20-30 year olds (read: future members), when long term financial security is exactly what they’re looking for.

And anyway, how well did black outs work for the Blackhawks? Last time we checked, attendance and support exploded once the Blackhawks started catering to the fans.

Photo by gabrioladude.