Over the years of its existence, the button became an accidental tourist totem—evidence not only that the city had been visited but also that high culture had been revered. And the button became a kind of art object in its own right, described once by Met curators as a kind of coin with a “multilayered tissue of readings and meanings.”
But it didn't just belong to tourists; like the museum itself, the token belonged to residents, too. In Brooklyn, they were emblems of a trip to the city, of culture supported and consumed, and they were something to get people talking about art (which we could always use more of) and maybe even excited to go look at it: what did you see? What's open? Should I go? I gotta go. They were souvenirs in the sense of the literal French: you'd find one at the bottom of a drawer, or in the pocket of a briefcase, and remember that sunny day you went on a date and ended up looking at nude photographs. They became icons of New York City, something to make you as proud of home as Central Park. They were cliches. They were darling.
And they cost three cents to make, up from two cents a few years ago, which has proven untenable for the museum. The new sticker system will cost a penny per ticket. (A friend suggested maybe we were to blame for never paying full price, but I think even if every New York resident were required by law to go the museum twice a year and pay full admission, the Met would still cry financial hardship.) The stickers will also have space for corporate sponsorship, which feels like the real reason behind this—there was one thing in the world someone wasn't monetizing! Hurry get it!
The end of the button was announced days after the museum said it would open seven days a week instead of six, which everyone seems to think is great. But you know what? It smacks of vulgar modernity as much as ad-sponsored sticker-ticketing. Why do we need access to everything always? To movies in parks, to television shows in cars, to music on trains under the surface of the earth, to museums on Mondays? I know you'll all say I'm just being romantic and cranky, but maybe you're not being romantic enough! Here's to tactility, to freedom from advertising, to rest.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart