4 Crazy Lawsuits Against Museums

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These lawsuits are so bizarre, they should be put in a muse—oh, wait.

1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Admission to the Met is just like the more than two million works in its permanent collection—priceless.

Well, kind of. An 1893 New York state law gave the museum rent-free city land as long as the public enjoys free admission at least five days and two evenings per week. (Alas, such a law has never applied to NYC apartments.) The law was amended in 1970, allowing the Met to post a suggested donation "so long as the amount was left up to individuals and the signage reflected that."

Now, 43 years later, three museum-goers are suing the Met for tricking the public into thinking that the $25 suggested donation fee is a requirement. The suit alleges that posting the fee with the word “recommended” instead of “suggested” misleads visitors, and that museum staff have been trained to ask for the full donation, instead of explaining that entry is pay-what-you-wish.

What do you think? Is the use of "recommended" really so different from "suggested"? Or it like comparing Monet and Manet? (Or Manet and mayonnaise?)

2. The National September 11 Museum and Memorial

Two days after the 9/11 attacks, workers discovered a 17-foot cross-shaped beam, likely from the North Tower, in the rubble of Ground Zero. Like any cross-shaped item, the beam was viewed by some Christians as a symbol of faith, hope, and healing after the terrible tragedy. It stood as a makeshift monument until July 2011 when it was installed at the 9/11 memorial site.

American Atheists, Inc. sued the museum in August 2012, claiming that displaying the beam is a violation of state civil rights law and the Constitution’s establishment clause. The 9/11 museum defended the beam as a historical artifact, not a religious symbol or endorsement. It also clarified that it’s an independent nonprofit, not a government agency. On Friday, a judge dismissed the suit.

3. The Dallas Museum of Art

Museum collections are made possible by art enthusiasts like you—except much, much richer. In 2011, Arnold Schroeder, Jr. sued the Dallas Museum of Art over a $400 million art donation by his deceased mother, Wendy Reves. He claimed that the museum's former art director sneaked 1400 paintings, sculptures, and drawings out of the South of France, where his mother and stepfather lived together. Schroeder claims that under French law, he was entitled to half his mother's estate, and we're guessing he wanted the Van Gogh paintings for his living room.

The only problem? Reves died in 2007 ... and donated the collection to the Dallas Museum of Art in 1985. Another issue: The art belonged to Schroeder's stepfather, not his mother. Doh!

The good news is that Schroeder can now see the collection for free from 11 to 5, Tuesday to Sunday. So can you.

4. Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia

No one's interested in PEZ because it's delicious. PEZ enthusiasts are crazy about the dispensers. Until 1995, Gary Doss decorated his computer store with his collection, which contains every cartoon-decorated dispenser ever made. When he noticed that customers were more interested in talking PEZ than buying monitors, hard drives, or printers, he decided to open the Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia.

High on the museum's success and maybe some sugar, Doss created its crown jewel in 2006—a 7'10" plastic replica modeled after the retired "Snowman B" PEZ dispenser. The working art piece dispenses snowman-shaped dispensers and was named the World's Largest Candy Dispenser by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2007.

And that's when PEZ got pezzed off.

The company sued Doss for trademark violations and demanded that the 85-pound snowman be destroyed before it did something abominable, like fall on someone or chomp someone's hand. PEZ also demanded sales figures for dispensers the museum repackaged and sold in its gift shop. Doss refused to be bullied. He argued that he'd already taken precautions with the museum's name and branding so that visitors know he's unaffiliated with PEZ. He was just a fan, being sued for promoting the product he loves.

In 2010, a judge dismissed the case after the parties agreed to an undisclosed settlement. The popular small-town museum has expanded to include exhibits of classic and banned toys and was named one of the Top 50 American Roadside Attractions by Time.com. But it keeps its eye on the prize—err, PEZ.

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April 2, 2013 - 11:00am
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