Japanese old master tops the attendance tree
In Tokyo and Kyoto, Hasegawa Tohaku pulls in the crowds, as does Abe Lincoln in Washington, DC
By Javier Pes and Emily Sharpe. Museums, Issue 223, April 2011
Published online: 29 March 2011
Forecasting exhibition attendance is an unpredictable science. Who would have thought that the six-foot-high plaster model of a statue of Abraham Lincoln would attract 9,290 visitors a day to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC? “Designing the Lincoln Memorial” lacked the magic words “treasures”, “impressionism” or “gold” in the title and yet it attracted 2.9m visitors in total, putting it third overall in The Art Newspaper’s 17th annual survey of attendance figures. The show, marking the bicentenary of Lincoln’s birth, was free to visit, but then so is strolling down the National Mall to admire Daniel Chester French’s finished sculpture of the 16th US President.
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The survey of 2010 exhibitions is more international than ever, featuring for the first time figures from several Brazilian and Korean venues. Two shows by women artists, Rebecca Horn and Regina Silveira, plus another of Islamic art, each attracted just short of 7,000 visitors a day to Rio de Janeiro’s Centro Cultural Banco do Brazil. These figures, again for free exhibitions, placed the bank foundation’s venue into the top 15 worldwide.
Japanese museums retain the top spots in the exhibition survey. The Tokyo National Museum’s show of work by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610) on the artist’s 400th anniversary, which included his masterpiece Pine Trees, attracted more than 12,000 daily visitors. That was around 2,000 visitors a day more than the museum’s then record-breaking Leonardo exhibition of 2007. Post-impressionist paintings from the Musée d’Orsay put the National Art Center Tokyo in runner-up position. Almost 11,000 visitors a day went to see works by Cézanne, Van Gogh and others on the Japanese leg of a world tour that also included Canberra and San Francisco. Van Gogh’s work on their own attracted more than 8,400 visitors a day to Tokyo’s National Art Center, a purpose-built blockbuster mill boasting 14,000 sq. metres of exhibition space. This means Japan is still the home of blockbusters, even when the Nara National Museum’s annual exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures (23 October-11 November 2010), which attracted 14,533 daily visitors, is excluded. We have omitted these extraordinary “temple shows” from the survey this year as visiting for many is more of an act of religious veneration than art appreciation.
Turning to total museum attendance, there was almost no change at the top. The Louvre in Paris remains first among equals, based on an estimated figure of 8.5m visitors, the same as the previous two years. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, weathered the recession, attracting 326,000 more visitors than last year, while cutting back on its exhibition budget by 39%. The decision of Thomas Campbell, the director of the Met, to bring forward its in-house Picasso show paid dividends. It finished eighth worldwide, and second in New York. As canny was staging a show of its Tutankhamun artefacts to coincide with the travelling King Tut blockbuster near Times Square, diverting 2,890 people a day uptown to Fifth Avenue. But New York’s Museum of Modern Art still organised nine of the city’s top ten shows, including Marina Abramovic’s one-woman performance. She attracted 7,120 a day.
Parisians flocked to the Pinacothèque’s “L’Age d’Or” show featuring Rembrandts and Vermeers lent by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum: 5,738 a day to be precise. The heavily advertised show ranked higher than the Grand Palais’ shows of work by Turner, Renoir, and Christian Boltanski’s installation in its nave for Monumenta.
Van Gogh’s paintings and letters at London’s Royal Academy of Arts returned the institution to the top of that city’s exhibition attendance league. The National Gallery in London’s surprise hit was a free show of Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz’s atmospheric installation of a Dutch red-light district, The Hoerengracht, which attracted 2,400 visitors a day.
There was no Banksy effect this year, which gave the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in the west of England its moment in the spotlight in 2009. Instead, the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology deserves a mention. Post-refurbishment, its visitor figures trebled to a record-breaking 1.04m a year, showing that scholarship and popularity are not mutually exclusive.
Other high achievers on the other side of the world were Brisbane’s adjoining Queensland Gallery of Art and Gallery of Modern Art. They presented six of Australia’s ten most visited shows. “Masterpieces of Paris”, an exhibition of post-impressionist paintings from the Musée d’Orsay, on show at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, prevented the Brisbane institutions from getting a clean sweep of the nation’s top five shows.
We are grateful to the museums and organisations who have taken part in this survey. The Brazilian Institute of Museums and the Korean National Museum provided extensive visitor figures for the first time. Sadly, the Garage Centre for Contemporary Art, Moscow, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art, which all ranked highly last year, were among those unable to provide statistics in time to be included. The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, could only provide its overall visitor figures for 2010.
All figures were calculated automatically by our database, which computes the number of days an exhibition was open using the following formula: total number of days between start date and end date, divided by seven, multiplied by the number of days per week the institution is open, minus exceptional closures. As this formula can produce fractions (divisions of seven), all figures are out by a potential margin of 2%. As the same margin applies uniformly to all averages given, the list represents a fair comparison, however. All data used was supplied by the institutions concerned. Many institutions have one ticket for the entire museum and cannot provide individual attendance for temporary exhibitions. Some institutions offer a number of exhibitions for a single ticket: these are shown as one entry. Institutions with more than one building were asked to provide separate total museum attendance figures for each venue. These venues are marked with an asterisk (*). Institutions that could not provide separate figures were excluded from this portion of the survey.
CORRECTION: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens was mistakenly left off our published attendance survey. It received 564,595 visitors last year and would have made our list of the top 100 most visited art museums worldwide.
Figures compiled by Helen Stoilas with Eliza Apperly, Alessandro Botta, Rob Curran, James Hobbs, Maureen Marozeau, Giovanna Paternò and Bonnie Rosenberg
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