They say there's no such thing as a free lunch - unless you're an Auckland celebrity.

Long-time Auckland Art Gallery supporters are annoyed they had to fork out $75 for tickets to last week's gala opening for one of the exhibitions of the year - Degas to Dali - while celebrities such as fashion guru Colin Mathura-Jeffree went for free. But the gallery says big names are not getting in on their good looks alone - they provide valuable publicity.

However, Mathura-Jeffree says he is shocked people had to pay and he would happily have paid had he known there was a cost to other guests.

"I studied art history at university and I collect art, so I was thrilled when [the gallery] sent me an invitation. I had no idea other people had to pay."


He says he will return and pay a $20 entry fee to see the exhibition again.

The gallery gave away about 100 tickets, and about 230 attended in total, including celebrity mother-and-daughter Sally and Jaime Ridge, fashion designer Denise L'Estrange-Corbet and Ben Barrington from TV3's The Almighty Johnsons. Melanie Roger, of Melanie Roger Gallery, was one of many long-term gallery supporters who paid to attend and was surprised to see the troupe of celebrities there.

"I don't mind paying for a ticket if it's across the board.

"I think it comes down to what is fair. In an ideal world there would be enough money for openings and everyone would be invited, but I think you have to be very careful if you are charging some people and not others."

Gallery director Chris Saines says key stakeholders received complimentary tickets, based on their contribution to the gallery or their governance roles.

"I believe Sally Ridge and the other celebrities were invited because of their ability to connect with the social media audience. They are about town attending events and tweeting and so forth and that is part of the publicity for the exhibition." Ridge is this week's Herald on Sunday guest editor in the Spy section in View magazine, and has covered the opening.

But World co-founder L'Estrange Corbet, another unaware of some guests paying last week, says she is not a tweeter or Facebook fan.

"I simply went as a guest. I have given my time for free at the gallery over many years, doing talks and such things, so I have a long-standing relationship with the gallery."


Mathura-Jeffree may, though, have earned his free entry - he tweeted twice to his 5400 followers at the opening and once more later, saying it was so good he'd be going back.

Saines says the $75 ticket price covered the cost of staging the exhibition and the gala opening. "We did not make a profit from the event, but we do have to look at every opportunity to generate revenue, and charging for an event like this is one of them."

Actor Barrington says he went to help the gallery, because "They needed some well-known faces/actors to attend the function."

Gallery staff who worked on the exhibition were also invited free and others were offered half price tickets.