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Taipei takes attendance top spot with loans from China

Asian art is in the ascendancy globally, while in Europe, Salvador Dalí reigns supreme

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Dutch Old Masters from the Mauritshuis, the Hague, on the Tokyo leg of a world tour topped our international survey of exhibitions in 2012. In 2013, the top two paying shows were again in Asia. In Taipei, loans of ancient gold, jade and bronze artefacts from mainland China alongside works in the collection of the National Palace Museum pulled in the crowds (10,946 a day) for its “Western Zhou Dynasty” show. Paintings from the Lingnan school of the 19th and 20th century attracted almost as many visitors (10,711 a day) to the same institution.

Europe witnessed a “Dalí” double hit. In Paris and Madrid the show was the top-paying exhibition. In the French capital, it broke the Centre Pompidou’s daily attendance record. Last year, 7,364 people a day went to see the Spanish artist’s work (790,000 in total). But in 1979, its first Dalí exhibition attracted more visitors in total (900,000). In Madrid, “Dalí” also saw queues snaking outside the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. But the show’s 6,615 visitors a day did not beat the record set by the Picassos lent by the Musée Picasso, Paris, in 2008.

Free-entry blockbusters

For free exhibitions, Rio de Janeiro’s Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil again comes top of our survey. Its most popular show “Impressionism: Paris and Modernity”, featuring loans from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, drew 8,099 visitors a day, repaying the $5.6m cost of bringing works by Manet, Degas and Monet and others to Rio and to its branch in São Paulo the year before. The artists in the centre’s next most popular show are unknown and from China, the so-called “peasant da Vincis” brought to the world’s attention by international star Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. A show about animation starring cartoon favourites Betty Boop and Popeye, among others, also did well at the Rio venue.

Loans to China of Fabergé eggs from the Kremlin Museums in Moscow attracted 5,967 visitors a day to the Shanghai Museum, which is free to enter, putting it among the top ten best-attended shows. Paintings by Raphael travelled from the Uffizi for a sure-fire paying blockbuster in Tokyo at the National Museum of Western Art, boosted by loans from the Vatican Museums as well as the Musée du Louvre and the Museo del Prado in Madrid, among other institutions. The show attracted 6,172 visitors a day (entry included with general admission). This is 1,800 more than the Louvre attracted with an exhibition of late works by the Renaissance master.

Last year, Norway celebrated the birth of its most famous artist. The sesquicentennial exhibition “Edvard Munch 150” at the National Gallery, Oslo, was the main event, co-organised by the National Museum and the Munch Museum. It attracted 2,918 visitors a day. But, a version of one Munch painting, albeit his most famous work, The Scream, drew 5,528 visitors a day when on loan to New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Russia’s love affair with Italian art was confirmed by the crowds that flocked to see “From Guercino to Caravaggio” at the Hermitage. The paintings collected by the late Denis Mahon and donated to Italian institutions attracted 11,122 a day, but as entry is included with general admission, the figure reflects the number of people in the St Petersburg museum on any given day.

London’s Tate Modern reports that 11,670 visitors a day went to see a video installation by William Kentridge in the Tanks, the former oil reservoirs converted into a performance and display space. Both the Hermitage and Tanks shows feature in our “big ticket” category (see p9).

In a category of its own is the Nara National Museum’s annual temple treasure show. Last year’s selection, including a zither and incense burner, drew 14,743 visitors/pilgrims a day.

Louvre on top, again

The Louvre has topped our list of best-attended art museums since we began surveying overall attendance six years ago. Even with around 500,000 fewer visitors last year (after a record-breaking 2012), the Louvre retains its pole position with an annual attendance of 9.3 million. The British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art swopped places in 2013. The free London institution saw its attendance rise to 6.7 million while its peer in New York (voluntary admission $25), saw attendance rise to 6.2 million, helped by being open seven days a week since last July.

The National Gallery, London, had a bumper year with six million visitors without a blockbuster show. The Tate Modern, despite a retrospective of works by Lichtenstein, saw its visitor numbers fall to 4.8 million from 5.3 million in 2012. The closure of the Tanks to allow its extension to be completed, and the end of the Unilever series in the Turbine Hall, were probable contributing factors.

In Madrid, the Prado had a disappointing year, falling from 3.1 million to 2.3 million, despite Monday openings. But the sun shone on the nearby Reina Sofía, boosted by “Dalí”, its attendance rose to 3.2 million (up from 2.5 million in 2012). In Paris, however, the Spanish artist’s appeal could not stop the Centre Pompidou’s attendance dipping slightly by around 55,000 to 3.7 million after a steady rise over the past five years.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, saw its admission just top the three million mark after a dip last year. No comfort for New Yorkers who think it is always overcrowded.

Around 80% of international tourists to the Netherlands only visit Amsterdam, which is a boon to the city’s museums. The Rijksmuseum fully reopened in April after its decade-long modernisation and in eight months its attendance exceeded two million. A new museum, MuCEM in Marseilles, which opened last June and focuses on European culture, had a strong first year, with 1.8 million visitors in its first six months. This was no doubt helped by the fact that the city was one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2013.

New museums tend to see a slight fall in visitors after their inaugural year, but the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City, the billionaire Carlos Slim’s private museum, broke the one million mark. The non-charging museum attracted 1.1 million visitors, up from 833,000, which bodes well for another private institution, the Museo Jumex, which opened nearby last November. Its founder, Eugenio Lopez, is on the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The trustees will be hoping Philippe Vergne, the new director, will reverse the institution’s plunging attendance, down from 248,000 in 2012 to 173,000 in 2013—less than the Norton Simon Museum of Art in nearby Pasadena. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s attendance is a respectable 1.2 million. Five years ago it was little more than half that figure.

The Detroit Institute of Arts, which under the leadership of Graham Beal continues the good fight against a forced sale of works in its collection, just missed the top 100 museums with 594,267 visitors, up from 429,000 in 2011. It came 102nd.

As with attendance at exhibitions, there are anomalies with institutions. Museums that are part of larger visitor destinations are difficult to compare with their stand alone peers. The most striking example of this is in Beijing’s Forbidden City where the Palace Museum complex had a total attendance of 14.6 million visitors last year.

This survey is only possible thanks to the work of numerous press officers and their colleagues who collated and provided us with the attendance data for around 1,800 exhibitions and around 500 museums to complete this year-on-year survey.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Taipei takes top spot with loans from China'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 256 April 2014