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See Hockney for free

[THIS WEEK] Avoid hefty ticket prices and see Hockney for free, writes James Pallister

Writing in the Guardian earlier this week, Charles Saatchi wondered why more galleries don’t dispense with the practice of charging entry for their major exhibitions. Yes, of course you can browse Contemporary Prints from Royal Academy Editions for free, but you want to see the Hockney show, A Bigger Picture? That’ll be £15.50, thanks. Fancy seeing some 19th-century art from the permanent collection at Tate Britain, fine. But if you want to see Migrations, that’s £6 please.

As a proportion of their income (the rest coming from sponsorship, donations, government – ie taxpayers – and shop revenue), gate receipts are pretty small. Why not do away with them altogether? After all, 20 quid for two tickets to a major show seems a little steep, and what if you’ve kids who you might want to take round? I’m not quite up to speed with the economics of child-rearing, but I’d happily wager that £40-50 for just the tickets would preclude many families on average incomes taking a regular trip to a gallery.

An unintended consequence of dispensing with ticket sales may be the demise of the ‘blockbuster show’, and its concomitant heavy PR-ing and blanket press coverage. The current one in London is Hockney’s show at the Royal Academy. There’s a lot to see in it, some of it fantastic, some of it much less so, and it suffers from a lack of editing, possibly not helped by his status as ‘The Greatest Living Painter’. His iPad paintings won’t be to everyone’s taste. If, like me, you find them too lurid and would prefer to see his earlier work, you would do well to slip down to Christie’s auction house in London to see the viewing for the sale, ‘Hockney on Paper’. Unlike the Royal Academy’s show, it’s free to view, so light on the wallet. Bidding may be less so, but for the entry-level Hockney buyer, estimates for the litho print A Rake’s Progress and Other Etchings, start at £1,000.

www.royalacademy.org.uk / www.christies.com

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