The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, home to the nation’s costliest art exhibition tickets, has raised the bar by offering a $75-a-person VIP ticket to “Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” more than double the already controversial top price of $30.
What does an extra $45 get you? Not relief from the crowds ogling the ancient treasures from Egyptian tombs, and no extras, not even a catalog. Instead, you gain access to a shorter line to get inside, and at any time on the chosen day. Buying a lower-priced ticket requires a specific time and puts you in a longer line -- sometimes for an hour or more.
One hundred VIP tickets a day are available, even when regular tickets are sold out. But buy the special tickets online, through Ticketmaster, and you pay a $7.50 “convenience charge” plus a delivery fee of $2.50 by e-mail to $25 by UPS, bringing the total to between $85 and $107.50. No fees are added to tickets bought at the museum box office.
High-end arts aficionados think nothing of paying $100 and more for operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and performances at Walt Disney Concert Hall, but general admission to LACMA costs $9, and tickets to special shows usually top out at $20. People who go to art museums only for blockbusters such as Tut are likely to weigh the cost of a VIP ticket against a similarly priced all-day trip to Disneyland ($76 for ages 10 and older, and you can visit two parks) or a sports event at Staples Center.
Tut ticket prices sparked an art-world controversy when the peak was $30, a new high for an art exhibition in the U.S.
The closest thing to the VIP ticket cited by art professionals, including Jeremy Strick, director of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s $50 “Member Mondays,” which admit members when the museum is closed to the public. The Met declined to book Tut because it didn’t want to change its policy of charging no more than a “suggested” $15 admission fee.
The Tut prices were set by the backers of the show: AEG, the sports and entertainment presenter that developed Staples Center, and Arts and Exhibitions International. They worked with National Geographic and Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities to bring an array of valuable objects from the tombs of King Tut, his relatives and 18th Dynasty (1555-1305 BC) contemporaries to the United States.
A portion of proceeds from sales of tickets and gift shop items will help fund construction of a new museum in Cairo and conservation of Egyptian archeological sites. But exhibition organizers say the VIP tickets were created in response to a demand from travelers and others with tight schedules, not to bring in more money.
“We have had too many people walk up and say, ‘This is my only day in Los Angeles. Is there any way I can get in?’ ” said Mark Lach, vice president of Arts and Exhibitions International. “It was done with that in mind. We have opened up 100 tickets a day and limited it to that. As we have gotten up and running, and learned a thing or two about making the guest experience as good as it can be, that’s something we thought we could accommodate.
“Because the tickets are limited,” he said, “they are priced at a premium. If that’s a concern, as it is for most of us, there are still times during the week when regular, timed tickets are available. If you plan ahead, many slots are open later in the summer and fall.”
Another new category of tickets, “Tut After Dark,” is available for 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. viewing this Friday and Saturday only, at regular prices. Hours may be extended on other days, Lach said. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.
The Tut exhibition opened at LACMA on June 16, kicking off a 27-month, four-venue tour of the U.S.
About 500,000 regular tickets have been sold to the Los Angeles show, which runs through Nov. 15. Sales of the new $75 VIP tickets, introduced a couple of days ago, have yet to be reported.
The museum initially admitted 300 people each hour. After experimenting with larger crowds, it raised the limit to about 500.
Premium tickets are unusual at art exhibitions, but theatrical blockbusters have blazed the trail -- on a much higher level.
Broadway Inner Circle, a New York ticket service, made a big splash in 2001 with an offer of $480 tickets for front and center seats at “The Producers.”
The tickets -- which more than quadrupled the highest regular ticket price of $95 and included no additional benefits -- were designed in part to beat scalpers at their own game by undercutting the black-marketers’ top price.
Producers of “The Lion King” offered 175 tickets at $127 apiece for each performance in Los Angeles, charging $50 more than the regular top price of $77. In addition to a good seat, buyers got parking, a souvenir booklet and entrance through a VIP door.
At LACMA, crowds with regular tickets wait in a big white tent, then file into a long corridor leading to the show. Wednesday afternoon, people standing in line fanned themselves with their exhibition brochures to cut the heat, but no one seemed particularly upset over prices or conditions.
“I can’t imagine being here on a weekend,” said Paso Robles resident Gail Rowe, who found the weekday congestion in the galleries “a little irritating” but the exhibition “awesome.”
Bob Blyberg of Mill Valley, who spent three hours in the show, said he was “very impressed with the general politeness of the crowd.”
Times staff writer Brian Triplett contributed to this report.