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Art Museum to charge premium for Picasso show

In what may be a precedent, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will charge premium ticket prices for its forthcoming show "Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris."

In what may be a precedent, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will charge premium ticket prices for its forthcoming show "Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris."

Such pricing generally is reserved for large exhibits involving loans from other museums. But the great majority of the nearly 200 works in the Picasso show are from the museum's own collection; a few pieces will come from private holdings. The museum has seldom, if ever, used special ticketing for an in-house show, though that is standard practice at some other institutions.

Timed tickets for "Picasso," which will be open from Feb. 24 to April 25, will be $20 - $4 more than the $16 general-admission price for adults.

In an e-mail, museum spokesman Norman A. Keyes Jr. wrote yesterday that "many of our major exhibitions are drawn - at least in part - from our own collection."

The pricing decision, he wrote, "was not based on whether this extraordinary exhibition would emerge from the core strengths of the collection, but rather its broad appeal to the museum's audiences." The show, he wrote, will be "worth more than the price of admission."

Traditionally, Keyes said, the museum has one or two premium-price exhibits in each fiscal year. In 2008-09, tickets for the acclaimed "Cezanne and Beyond" exhibit (which closed May 31) cost $24 and included an audio tour, as will "Picasso" tickets.

During this fiscal year, the museum has two major shows, "Picasso" and the current "Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective," which ends Jan. 10. The "Gorky" show is included in the general $16 admission price; its audio tour costs an additional $5.

Inevitably, there is tension between those whose mission is to ensure the museum's success as an educational venue and who want public access to be easy, inexpensive, or free, and those who must keep it financially healthy.

In February, in an attempt to get its operating budget in sync with a shrinking endowment, the museum announced that it would reduce its staff by 30 positions and cut senior officials' pay.

In July, all ticket prices went up by $2, to $16 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $12 for teens; children 12 and under are admitted free. (Two years earlier, the museum raised admission for seniors by $3 and for others by $2.) The pay-what-you-wish-on-Sundays policy, in effect since 2001, was scaled back to apply only to the first Sunday of the month.

By any measure, "Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris" will be impressive and significant. A survey of Picasso's art from 1905 to 1945 that includes works of other artists active in Paris in the early 20th century, it will focus on cubism, the radical rethinking of perspective and form that changed Western art.

Keyes wrote that Michael Taylor, the museum's curator of modern art, had "developed a compelling narrative." The show is a visual recounting of the story of the cubists and a declaration of the museum's especially rich world-class holdings in modern art, including "many important works that have not been seen by the public in many years."

Last winter, after the postponement of "The Crown of Aragón: The Art of Barcelona, Mallorca, Valencia and Zaragoza," previously scheduled for spring 2010, Gail Harrity - then interim chief operating officer and now museum president - said, "It's fair to say that the curatorial staff is looking at how to best focus on the museum's rich and deep collection."

Across the nation, museums increasingly are presenting in-house collection shows, for which some have long charged premium prices even before the current economic downturn. The Art Museum had stood apart somewhat in not applying special pricing to shows drawn from its collection.

One place that does not set a price on touring shows, special exhibitions, or general admission, instead encouraging visitors to pay what they like, is New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art; former director Philippe de Montebello discontinued ticketing there in the late 1980s.

Harold Holzer, the Met's senior vice president of external affairs, said yesterday that "to single out one or two shows a year that might be deserving of special ticketing would create a tiered assessment of shows even before they opened."

"Philippe de Montebello urged to make it a pay-as-you-wish institution," Holzer said, "so visitors have access at all times."