Art on the Soviet Plan: Pay As You View

THE Kazimir Malevich exhibition at the National Gallery of Art here has come with a Soviet price tag. For the first time, the USSR has asked a rental fee for a major exhibition, and United States museums or the corporate sponsors for the show are paying it. The traditional international method is to exchange art exhibitions between countries rather than asking for cash on the barrel. The Soviets are charging $1.5 million of the three museums where the Malevich show will go. At all three, multinational companies are picking up the tab. At the National Gallery, Philip Morris Companies Inc., which is the corporate sponsor for many of the show's costs, is also donating the $500,000 fee the gallery pays the Soviets. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, corporate sponsor IBM is paying the Met's share. At the Armand Hammer museum, Hammer's Occidental Petroleum Corporation is paying the fee.

Coincidentally, the week the Malevich show opened in Washington, Philip Morris Company, the USA's largest tobacco company, announced it had agreed to sell 20 billion cigarettes to the USSR. Together with 14 billion cigarettes that R.J.R., the second-largest tobacco firm in the country, has agreed to sell the Soviets, this amounts to 34 billion cigarettes or roughly a month's supply, at a time when a shortage of cigarettes in the USSR had led to demonstrations and even some riots.

A National Gallery spokesperson said that the Soviet payment would be used for conservation and restoration of Soviet works, and added that ``we had nothing to do'' with the ``ironic'' timing of the business announcement. ``All the companies [sponsor art exhibitions] as good public relations, for business development ... and for a kind of recognition and approval in target market areas.'' The spokesperson added, ``We don't condemn or condone this business practice.''

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