The following article was published in The Australian 16 May 2014:
Michaela Boland ‘Summer proves just the ticket’
IT was the gamble that paid off. Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art triumphed at the turnstile over summer with its survey of Chinese conceptual artist Cai Guo Qiang, which closed at the weekend after having been seen by 228,600 people.
Cai’s Falling Back to Earth, which comprised three major installations on the ground floor of the gallery, was the nation’s most visited ticketed summer exhibition, with 1300 a day.
Seen by 220,000 paid visitors, the final tally is an impressive result for the Brisbane gallery because while Cai’s works are eye-catching and fun, he is neither a household name nor a French Impressionist, which is what’s often required to set the box office alight in Australia.
The show’s success proved that Queensland Art Gallery visitors would happily pay to see big conceptual exhibitions over summer when, traditionally, GOMA shows have been free. “I’m elated, really delighted the public responded as they did,” director Chris Saines said.
Falling Back to Earth recorded the second-highest attendance of a ticketed exhibition in the gallery’s history, after 232,000 saw Andy Warhol in 2008 over a slightly shorter period of four months.
“Our deliberate strategy of extending the duration of the show is becoming somewhat of a trend (internationally),’’ he says. “It gave us a longer time span to get a return on investment.”
Saines would not reveal what the gallery spent staging Falling Back to Earth,but he said box-office income, calculated by The Australian to be about $2.5 million, would help mitigate those costs.
The second most popular ticketed art show during summer was the National Gallery of Australia’s Peruvian extravaganza Gold and the Incas, which attracted 1004 a day. The Canberra gallery would not reveal how many of these admissions were paid. Schoolchildren are admitted free to special exhibitions at the NGA.
Gold and the Incas, The Lost Worlds of Peru was a world-exclusive exhibition curated from six collections in Peru by NGA staff.
Seen by a total 160,647 over four months, it ranked below the NGA’s high watermark of summer exhibitions set in 2010, when Masterpieces From Paris was seen by 470,000.
Of the summer exhibitions since, Incas trailed Renaissance: 15th and 16th Century Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, seen by 213,000 in 2012, and Toulouse Lautrec: Paris & the Moulin Rouge, seen by 170,000 last year, but it did prove more popular than Ballet Russes: The Art of Costume, which closed in 2011 having been seen by 80,000.
To be fair on the NGA, this summer was a particularly busy time in the national capital for gallery and museum exhibitions.
The National Portrait Gallery’s Elvis at 21 proved to be of limited interest, seen by 20,422 over three months — 182 tickets a day. At the National Museum of Australia, the Old Masters bark painting show has sold 25,000 tickets so far and will remain on display until July 20.
The summer’s surprise hit was the National Library of Australia’s Mapping Our World, a free, ticketed exhibition that reached capacity in its final weeks, eventually seen by 118,264, equating to 961 people a day.
In Sydney, Tyrannosaurs — Meet the Family opened at the Australian Museum in November and will roar along until July.
The Sydney International Art Series returned for the fourth incarnation with Yoko Ono’s War is Over at the Museum of Contemporary Art seen by 74,000, of which 66,000 were paid visitors.
Over 100 days, the show sold 660 tickets a day, slightly more than America, Painting a Nation at the Art Gallery of NSW over roughly the same period. America’s total paid audience was 57,778 equating to 621 a day.
In relation to the unticketed summer exhibitions, the National Gallery of Victoria’s extravagant Melbourne Now was the big winner, with 753,000 recorded visitors across the two venues over 121 days. The sprawling contemporary art show, the biggest in NGV’s history, was considered by contemporary art proponents as a game-changer for the sector.
Never before had the Melbourne gallery resourced and celebrated living Victorian artists so enthusiastically. With 6224 visitors a day, Melbourne Now set a new high water mark for a free exhibition in Australia.
Adelaide Biennial’s Dark Heart — celebrating living artists around the nation — closed at the weekend having been seen by 111,000 visitors, up 10 per cent on the previous biennial. Over two months, total daily visitation amounted to 1542.