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  • sarastgeorge7

Monnaie, Manet, Money

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

'Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.' - Andy Warhol


“Dollar Sign” (1981) by Andy Warhol, which appears in the exhibition “Money in Art” at the Monnaie de Paris.Credit...The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Licensed by ADAGP, Paris


No, it's not a clue from Only Connect. Although there is a connection between the words.. Quite an obvious one really. I almost called this 'in pursuit of profit.' but I couldn't resist the alliteration.


Money is the unifying factor. But you'd worked that out already.


I have worked in both commercial and publicly funded arts and I am always fascinated by the different approaches arts venues have towards funding their work and managing the visitor experience. I sometimes wonder how often money trumps experience for those running art institutions and whether any of us strike the right balance. Is the sell-out event and efficiency the holy grail, and how often do we really consider the experience from our audience's perspective?


I don't propose to draw any conclusions from this little piece, it's much more fun to do that when I have a bottle of gin and some like-minded friends and colleagues who would be up for the debate (you know who you are). I hope to share here a few provocations or conversation starters (and some photos too)


“When bankers get together, they talk about art. When artists get together, they talk about money.”Oscar Wilde


Paris is full of museums and galleries that receive millions of visitors each year from across the world, many in search of the. ultimate selfie with a famous work of art. But offering and maintaining these extraordinary cultural experiences to as wide a range of people as possible costs money.





My train of thought started after a visit to the Museé Rodin. It's the only national museum in France to be fully self-funding. It's an unusual but clever business model. The artist donated his work, moulds and models along with all the intellectual property rights to the museum. Up to twelve numbered casts can legally be produced; these casts are classed as original works and can be sold by the museum. Some of the more famous pieces have reached their maximum of twelve but there are plenty left, with collectors interested in buying them. The sale of these original bronzes represents between 30 and 35 % of the museum’s annual budget. and tickets make up much of the rest. Thanks to Rodin’s donation of his works and possessions to the French state in 1916, the museum is still solvent over a hundred years later. I'm not sure what happens if/when they run out of work to sell. A full-price ticket is 14 euros. and the museum gets over 700,000 visitors a year. The garden and museum are beautiful. There is space to wander around in your own time, take photos if you wish, or simply enjoy the sculptures. I learnt more than I expected about techniques and form and have developed a better understanding of sculpture which helped with my next trip. In complete contrast, one of the world's most visited art museums, the Gare d'Orsay averages around 3.,500,000 visitors per year. Ticket sales account for 70% of its income, with income from overseas visitors accounting for 70% of footfall during the peak season. Full-price tickets are 16 euros. It's not difficult to see why they fell into financial difficulties during the pandemic. With visitor numbers back up to earlier levels, it's also almost impossible to see how they could squeeze any more into its packed galleries.



Like all the big museums, tickets are timed with a half-hour window and full airport-style bag check to enter the building. I was looking forward to the opening of the Manet/Degas exhibition, the first to put the two artists side by side in search of contrasts and parallels. I'll be honest, I did not enjoy the experience. That is not to say the exhibition wasn't good, but often the experience counts for so much more. I have bought the catalogue to peruse at my leisure with the knowledge that I have at least been in the same room as the paintings. I confess I was guilty of following the crowds to get the famous photo through the clock. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have chosen a time when the sun was shining from a different direction, but my brain had turned to mush by then. I think the crane says it all - it felt like a metaphor for the whole visit. As I left, I wondered how much thought the directors gave to the experience vs income. Are such high audience numbers really a sign of success if visitors don't enjoy the experience? How do you manage crowds for those exhibitions that transcend the art to be a cultural phenomenon and 'must see' regardless of interest?


It's a delicate balance. Sadly, I don't think I'll be racing back.



A more measured and thoroughly enjoyable visit was the 'L'Art-Gent: L'argent dans l'art' exhibition at La Monnaie de Paris. Founded in 864, La Monnaie is the world’s oldest continuously running mint, although it moved to its current location in 1775. It also has a site in Pessac. The Monnaie de Paris is a government-owned institution responsible for producing France's euro coins. In 2017, following a 7 million euro renovation, it re-opened its doors to the public to reveal its manufacturing secrets. It also has space for regular exhibitions. The museum is free to enter and the exhibition is 12 euros.


The museum combines huge digital displays, clever displays of metals that make you want to stop and learn more, ancient coins, machinery, exhibits and hands-on activities to learn how money is made. This is all set alongside the social and political story of Paris through the ages. The exhibition covers more than 20 centuries of art history on the theme of the complex relationship between art and money, from antiquity and its myths until today.


Philippe Halsman, « Dalí, Why do you paint ? -Because I love art », 1954, Photomontage, 35x27cm, Estate Halsman © Philippe Halsman Estate, 2023, Image rights of Salvador Dalí reserved, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí


According to the business plan, La Monnaie had 150,000 visitors in 2022 (a doubling compared to 2021) and 'will continue to benefit from an attractive cultural program aimed at a wider audience' The aim for the whole business is to have 200 million euros in turnover in 2027. It's not difficult to see where funding comes from, As an aside, I spent so long inside I was starving when I came out. I fell into Frappé, the on-site cafe and, due to my appalling grasp of the language, ended up having a fabulous but unnecessarily expensive, all-you-can-eat, all-day vegetarian brunch, pretty much blowing my budget for the day. As soon as I realised what I'd got myself into, I tried to eat as much as I could and to pop a few treats in my bag to take away, thereby cementing any stereotypes the staff may have had of the English, Not a good look when trying to fit in with the Parisians. Maybe I should go and buy a trench coat tomorrow? OK - back to the point.


'Sometimes the dress is worth more money than the money' Tracey Emin So I get that none of these models can simply be adopted by any Uk institution but it does bring me back to the question of money vs experience. It seems that to be truly inclusive and to create the conditions for an enjoyable experience, you need money to subsidise the affordable tickets and to be able to cap visitor numbers if indeed you see a value in that for the audience. Is a sell-out always the best situation? Financially, yes, of course - and that is before any reference to supply and demand and dynamic pricing (blimey, I'm not going that far with my musings today) Sometimes the crowd can create the experience - that buzz you get at a crowded music gig, for example. But when you can't access the work satisfactorily or take the time to enjoy it, it can be at the expense of the audience experience.


If you have made it this far, well done. I have visitors due again soon, so there will be less time for subjects like today and more time for Kir and cakes.


...à la prochaine




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