Now the Met’s admission button will go the way of the token. Citing the rising cost of the tin-plate pieces and the flexibility of a
new paper ticket system using detachable stickers, the Met will end the buttons’ 42-year run on Monday, the same time it switches to a seven-day-a-week schedule instead of being closed on Mondays.
“I regret it slightly myself,” said Thomas P. Campbell, the museum’s director. “One of my assistants has a whole rainbow of
the colored buttons on her desk.” But he and Harold Holzer, the museum’s senior vice president for public affairs, who oversees admissions and visitor services, said that the buttons had become an antiquated luxury.
“We realize, without sounding crass, that it’s a beloved brand and a beloved symbol,” Mr. Holzer said. But the price of the metal
has risen, he said, and the number of manufacturers the museum could go to for competitive prices has dwindled. “It just became too expensive. We saw that it was inevitable.”
Karsten Moran for The New York Times Metal admissions buttons are fashion accessories for visitors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but not after Monday.
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.” It has been recycled into artworks like Ji Eon Kang’s “Dress,” made from hundreds of the buttons assembled like chain mail. Its design has been incorporated into Met mugs and T-shirts. And it has been collected by the hundreds by a certain kind of Met devotee. (Collecting all 16 colors could also help you slip into the museum without paying the suggested $25 admission price; the colors are changed daily in random order.)
The current design, bearing an “M” adapted from a 16th-century woodcut illustration based on a Leonardo drawing, figures in the Met’s sense of its own identity, including the museum’s internal newsletter, which uses the button in its nameplate. Even the announcement that the Met would be open seven days a week borrowed the familiar iconography; it showed a line of six shiny buttons representing the days of the week, with a seventh added for Monday.
The buttons were introduced a year after the Met instituted a suggested-price admission system, replacing paper tickets and
stickpins, and they seemed to capture the spirit of the new admissions policy, acting as a souvenir instead of a receipt.
“That badge became the un-ticket,” said Ellen Lupton, senior curator of contemporary design at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design
Museum. “You weren’t paying to get into the museum; you were making a donation. And in exchange you got this beautiful little thing that also has a control function.”
Museums around the world followed suit, with metal (or, increasingly, plastic) badges now standard issue in many institutions. The
Met’s own badges have evolved too, in terms of text and typeface (an “M” set in Bodoni and the initials “MMA” are among past alterations), as well as color. Hundreds of shades have come and gone, and those now in use are known by idiosyncratic in-house nicknames — Mole, Hubba Bubba, Piglet, Poupon. The one-inch badges — known in the admissions-button industry as litho tabs — are made by Kraus & Sons, a manufacturing company based in Chelsea that also created the museum’s first banners in the 1960s.
To keep up with the more than six million people who visit each year, the museum orders 1.6 million of the buttons four times a year, Mr. Holzer said, and they now cost about three cents per button, up from two cents only a few years ago. The new paper tickets will cost only about a penny each, and they will give the museum the space to promote shows, new and soon to
close, and, Mr. Holzer added, a space “to sell to corporate sponsors” for advertising.
The tickets will also be easier on the environment, though the Met does ask patrons to drop their buttons in a bowl on the way out
the door, for placement in the city’s metal recycling system.
The new ticket-stickers will incorporate a version of the Leonardo “M,” evoking the button. But in an era in which physical objects
seem to be rapidly dematerializing into the digital, the loss of a durable little chunk of the Met will undoubtedly be missed.
“It’s sad,” said Monica Mahoney, a 46-year-old fashion designer who recently moved to Los Angeles from New York but was back on Thursday and paying a visit to the museum, as she often does. “Everyone now will keep these, like they keep subway tokens. But it’s just a memory of New York.”
But other patrons say they will suffer from no postbutton nostalgia. “They always fall off,” said Malcolm Roberts, 66, a
retired teacher who grew up in Brooklyn but now lives in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. “And then, walking around the museum, I would feel like the emperor — naked. If it’s the difference between buying a Monet and keeping these, they can buy the Monet.”
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