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Art museum attendance


by Jerome Weeks 6 Mar 2008

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston  ___________________________________________________ Museum attendance isn’t everything, and I hesitate to put much stock in “box office figures,” the kind of competition that has made commercial cultural endeavors (movies, recordings, TV shows) such grim stock market tallies. But they can provide some insights. For the first time, Art Newspaper has reported annual […]

CTA TBD

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 

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Museum attendance isn’t everything, and I hesitate to put much stock in “box office figures,” the kind of competition that has made commercial cultural endeavors (movies, recordings, TV shows) such grim stock market tallies. But they can provide some insights.

For the first time, Art Newspaper has reported annual attendance figures for art museums around the world. Previously, they’d reported on only individual exhibitions. The top 10 museums are much what you’d might expect (the Louvre, Tate Modern, the Prado), although only two American museums made the cut (the National Gallery, the Met). Paris and London are tied with three of the ten most popular museums apiece.

But the pleasant surprise is that Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts is ranked at #20 (with 1,649,969 visitors), ahead of the Uffizi in Florence, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Guggenheim in NYC. For what it’s worth: It is the only Texas museum listed in the top 60 institutions, and the only American museum listed from the South or Southwest (discounting Washington, D.C., which has a hefty four listed).

It’s revealing, however, that almost one-third of the total Houston attendance (574,207) came from a single show …

The show was Masterpieces of French Painting from the Met –which, as its title implies, more or less piggybacks on the Met’s popularity. One wonders, then, how high Houston will appear in future rankings.

And to give some idea of the range involved: The Louvre, the leading attraction, had more than 8 million visitors. The Albertina in Vienna, which squeaked in at #60, had 550,000 — less than Houston tallied for that single Met exhibition.

Does anyone wonder, then, why, sadly, blockbuster exhibitions still seem to rule … ? Another telling example, closer to home: The Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharoahs exhibition — the one that’s coming to the Dallas Museum of Art this fall — garnered more than one million visitors in both Chicago and Philadelphia. Yet neither of those institutions (the Franklin Institute and the Field Museum) are listed in these rankings at all, perhaps because they’re not really full-fledged art museums.

Or perhaps because the King Tut exhibition is a corporate, commercial venture, produced by the same people who presented Celine Dion in Las Vegas.

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