N.Y. art museum accused of duping visitors on fees

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NEW YORK — Before visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art can stroll past the Picassos, Renoirs, Rembrandts and other priceless works, they must first deal with the ticket line, the posted $25 adult admission and the meaning of the word in smaller type just beneath it: “recommended.”

Many people, especially foreign tourists, either don’t see it, don’t understand it or don’t question it. If they ask, they are told the fee is merely a suggested donation: You can pay what you wish but you must pay something.

“I just asked for one adult general admissions and he just said, ‘$25,’” says Richard Johns, a high school math teacher from Little Rock, Ark., who paid the full price at the museum this past week. “It should be made clear that it is a donation you are required to make. Especially for foreign tourists who don’t understand. Most people don’t know it.”

Confusion over what’s required to enter one of the world’s great museums, which draws more than 6 million visitors a year, is at the heart of a class-action lawsuit this month accusing the Met of scheming to defraud the public into believing the fees are required.

The lawsuit contends that the museum uses misleading marketing and training of cashiers to violate an 1893 New York state law that mandates the public should be admitted for free at least five days and two evenings per week. In exchange, the museum gets annual grants from the city and free rent for its building and land along pricey Fifth Avenue in Central Park.

Met spokesman Harold Holzer denied any deception and said a policy of requiring visitors to pay at least something has been in place for more than four decades. “We are confident that the courts will see through this insupportable nuisance lawsuit.”

The suit seeks compensation for museum members and visitors who paid by credit card over the past few years.

“The museum was designed to be open to everyone, without regard to their financial circumstances,” said Arnold Weiss, one of two attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of three museum-goers, a New Yorker and two tourists from the Czech Republic. “But instead, the museum has been converted into an elite tourist attraction.”

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