The 2012 Summer season for art in New York has been filled with art exhibits that utilize one of the most infuriating methods of experiencing art, that of the timed ticket. To climb Tomás Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City at the Met, you need a timed ticket. Trying to discover Discovering Columbus by Tatzu Nishi at Columbus Circle? Timed ticket. Trying to catch Fireflies on the Water by Yayoi Kusama at the Whitney? Timed ticket. The main reason for using the timed ticket system is that the art is usually in a space with limited capacity. Cloud City can only accommodate a finite amount of people in its structure as does Discovering Columbus, which a sign on the wall says only 50 people at a time. Fireflies on the Wall, as per the artist’s instructions, only allows one person at a time inside to experience it as intended.
The experience of the timed ticket varies by the art but there is one common thread for all. The timed ticket system is not perfect and could use some tweaking. I will try to describe each of my experiences with all three works mentioned above.
Tomás Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was meant to be climbed. You are allowed to be up on the roof to see it, but to access it, a timed ticket is needed in a separate line in the lobby of the stairs access to the roof. The timed ticket is of no extra charge but as only a limited amount of visitors are allowed on Cloud City, the reserved time quickly runs out within the first hour or hours that the museum opens. Also, experiencing Cloud City is dependent on the weather. So, if the weather is bad or turns bad, the roof is closed to visitors. Cloud City can accommodate quite a few visitors, though and has been around since Spring so it allows for more time to actually enjoy and experience it. Even if you don’t get a timed ticket being next to it still allows for an experience. The ticketing system is not felt too badly here as long as you have time to pick up a ticket and come back. You should probably schedule your entire day around it. You need to leave things in a locker and are not allowed to bring anything with you. No cameras, but people have taken photos up there. The dress code is strict on footwear. Women have worn dresses but it’s a peep show, so you know.
Discovering Columbus by Tatzu Nishi is unfortunately not something you can experience by just standing next to it. The piece is enclosed is a structure three stories above the ground. Tatzu Nishi is an artist whose works are usually covering sculptures around the world and placing them in a decorated room. Some are livable spaces. To even discover Discovering Columbus, you need to walk up six flights of stairs and enter through a balcony greeting area and into Christopher’s living room complete with swanky sofas, decor and a big flat screen TV.. Tickets are recommended to be reserved online or at the Time Warner Visitor Center across the street. It the beginning, the tickets were going fast and the online system could not keep up and made it seem tickets were still available for a given day and time and it was not. The tickets are free but you do need to print them and usually the easily available spots are during working hours during the day. The online ticketing is the only problem as far as I am concerned. It may take a few tries before you find a time slot that is good for you. As long as you show up for your time slot, you are allowed 30 minutes inside. Sometimes on a busy day, the staff recommends you shorten it. I feel 20 minutes is adequate to experience it. The only other criticism has been the timing. The work opened in the summer and closes mid-November. On Columbus Day, the iconic statue was not visible to his worshippers.
Fireflies on the Water by Yayoi Kusama has been the most exasperating and thrilling experience in this season of timed tickets and what has mainly inspired me to write this post to begin with. The Whitney Museum website causes problems before you get there when it states passes to the room installation are only available in person. What they don’t tell you is that if you order your ticket online, you get to cut ahead of other people in the general admission line and get on a shorter line usually reserved for members and corporate partners. I probably should have done that, but then I won’t have a story to tell you. I was cheering on a friend at a local running race near the museum and when that ended I proceeded to the museum where there was what looked like a short line. It had only reached the edge of one corner with maybe 50 or 60 people ahead. The museum had not even opened yet. There was another line on the other side that was much shorter. This was a line for members but also corporate sponsors, media guests and will call ticket holders(the people who ordered online and picking up their tickets). The museum was using the Kusama installation to promote membership. Members get to skip waiting and go directly in to see Fireflies on the Water at the start of every hour. This meant that no tickets can be sold in that time slot. I ended up doing the math roughly in my head and since they do not count the time to enter and exit while in the exhibit, this means less than 300 non-membership visitors probably experience the room in any given day. I was just at that numbered area where I may or may not get tickets. That first day, I was two spaces behind being able to get tickets and left empty handed. I was in the area again the next day and this time was even further from the front of the line, but thankfully the members’ line was even shorter. It was a Sunday. I was biting my nails in anticipation and taking deep breaths. The awful reality though is that I think people have been cutting in line by brazenly walking in and the security had not been stopping them. I know this for a fact because before I was allowed to go through the door I had to wait behind the velvet rope line and a man claiming to work for the city which allowed him membership status got in ahead of me on the pretense of asking the staff a question. He seemed lost and couldn’t find the right person to talk to and went on the ticket line instead. After I was let in the door, I made sure he was behind me because I was almost sure I wasn’t going to get a ticket anyway. I would be no loss if he didn’t get one either as everyone else including me will just go see the Kusama retrospective on the other floor of the museum and not make the waiting in line a total loss. By the way, tickets are included in admission, but you need one to see the installation and not everyone will get one, just to clarify. I was still hopeful as the line neared the ticket sellers and they hadn’t announced anything yet. As soon as I got my ticket, they announced no more tickets. I got the last one! In your face, city guy! I left him and his wife and toddler daughter with frowns on their faces. He snuck his wife and kid in later in the line. What a jerk! My ticket was for the last block of time in the day but it didn’t matter. I win! There was this woman behind me who was cursing the whole time in the line. She clearly had gotten on the line as a whim and had not scheduled for it. She kept arguing with her husband loudly on the phone that she will be late to their breakfast and then in a separate call said she will meet him elsewhere when it was clear she wasn’t making the breakfast time. She also made sure city guy was behind her. She was pretty much exploding when she was told there were no more tickets. She made waiting so stressful even after I told her in the beginning about my closer spot in line the previous day and how I didn’t get tickets. When I came back later in the afternoon, the lady manning the timer and the line for Fireflies on the Water was so nice and remembered me from the day before. I was wearing the same yellow jacket. She said she appreciated my patience. She was cute, too. I told her my story of the guy cutting in line and how her words made me feel really good about trying and then getting the last ticket. Best day ever!
I wrote this post in hopes of maybe coming to a realization that maybe there was a better way to distribute timed tickets or maybe to acquire them but there really isn’t. The limitations of the art and the cultural institution offering them can’t be controlled due to many factors including safety and people trying to get one over on their fellow human beings. In the end, my best advice is go early, bring something to read and wait patiently. If you don’t get in, it’s not the end of the world. I think the timed ticket idea is here to stay and there will be many more such events coming your way. It also feels terrific when the nice staff acknowledges you. I just wrote that for the museum administrator who was nice to me and hope this gets back to her somehow. If you are the reader and still reading this overly long post, I appreciate YOU, too 😉