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‘When do you stop being a museum and start being a showroom?’

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Complaints are coming in about the Metropolitan Museum of Art allowing a private jeweler to sell his wares within its walls (no, not in the museum shop) and getting a cut from the sales. A typical objection comes from Brian Daniels, director of research and programs at the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Cultural Heritage Center, who told the press, “There is a moral hazard when using a museum as a venue increases the value of a collection” – a reference to the jewelry collection. “When do you stop being a museum and start being a showroom?”

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But such pique is a little like Captain Renault in Casablanca, saying “I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” Money talk is the new art speak. Just consider all the art news headline about strong sales at Art Basel Miami or at Christie’s or Sotheby’s auction houses. Art and money have been going together since the Medici’s bankrolled art in the Renaissance; although Cosimo de Medici talked about art, too. His astute observation, “Every painter paints himself” comes to mind.

Not long ago, the Saatchi Gallery in London held a symposium that asked if art fairs were more about money than art. Saatchi framed the debate by citing both sides of the argument. But he should watch more movies to know that the art versus money argument has already been settled. One look at the movie about a SoHo art dealer and a Wall Street shark in “91/2'' when the art dealer kneels in abject servitude to a money figure could have told him that. So did Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” when he called art "just a capitalist illusion."

See? There was no shift of the tectonic plates when the Met allowed a trunk show in its space. Even a casual glance at art news of our day and you know it’s just business as usual.


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