There is a growing pile of correspondence from Glenn Lowry on my desk. Well, not just him, but also various important persons in the membership department at MoMA. I’m very important to them these past few weeks, unlike the rest of the year.

It’s that time again. Well, actually it passed last week, but doing year-end posts after the year ends is the new heroin, or something like that. I meant to do a more earnest post about what it means to identify oneself as a member of a community (even if it is one of nine million people), and what those responsibilities are, especially when tax breaks are to be had. Figuring my demo is not heavily skewed toward those who itemize (we are talking about architects after all), and listing to whom I give money seemed like the antithesis of charity — oh, and I’m lazy — the post never made it, and I’m sure y’all gave as generously as your deductions merited.

So anyway, back to that pesky MoMA renewal. A great deal if you go to MoMA four times (less if you bring a guest), right? No standing in line, a clear sense of local superiority when you get in the members coat check line (which seems to never work as well as the non-members line). All so you can try to look at artwork you’ve been looking at for the past ten years, if you an get past the seven hundred thousand people who seem to enter every day. Oh, don’t forget that great trinket store discount — overpriced holiday cards at 10% off!

I think you get my point. Even at a $20 non-member entry fee, it’s rough sledding to argue for MoMA membership. It’s like the proverbial gym membership — all intent, no execution. The question for me today isn’t about wasting one’s money. I just need to look at my rent bill to get a more gratuitous sense of frission at futile outlay. It’s the snookering of thousands of New Yorkers by the massive brand machine that is MoMA.

Really, is there a more trite symbolism of New York residency? It’s the training wheels of culture consumption, yet so many of us cling to it, fearful we’ll be caught out, like not subscribing to the New Yorker. It’s Culture Legitimation Insurance — really, a good deal for that number. For $75, you can insulate yourself from a sense that you are a philistine, that you are a small but sturdy leg of the table that is the preeminent arts institution in America. You and the other 600,000 or so members who make up the same amount of revenue as is expected from an incoming board member.

When is the last time you went? Even cracked the wafer seal of the monthly guide, that seemingly rich book of culture that arrives each month, a little dig intended to keep you small? “Look” it says “over 40 pages of highbrow activities that you could be yours, if you weren’t such a lazy low culture wastrel! Only $6.25, amortized!” Except ten pages are given over for Park Slope mommies and Bugaboo stroller lunch programs, along with the listings of 50 films that you could only reasonably attend if you live or work within six blocks due to their draconian ticket policies. Oh, and the show that has been up since 2004 that is as marginally as interesting any twenty feet of West Chelsea real estate.

My opening salvo in the war against middlebrow cultural namechecking was to instead patronize their neighbors. Then I looked further a field: first stop was the Whitney, where it took me all of five minutes to remind myself that it was more of the same (though I enjoy going to the Whitney more), a point driven home years ago when I worked for an ad conglomerate and scored one of those superpowered corporate member passes. Actually, I took a fistful, since no one wanted them, and escorted a half dozen friends to the Biennial, with a pass for each. Upon presenting one, I was asked “How many tickets do you want?” So, yeah, fuck me, pay for a membership when some ‘hip’ art director from McCann take waltz in with everyone in his Hoboken apartment building for free? I think not.

I won’t bother with the progressively duller story of trying to think of worthy cultural institutions I could come up with off the top of my head and how it petered out once I found out you couldn’t join the El Museo del Barrio online. But in principle, I’m still at it. But the important first step, like any addiction, is admitting you have a problem. Thus, I have shred all my MoMA related correspondence. I tread confidently, if a little unsurely into a future… post-modern. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

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