Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Top Tens – 2017

Source: Fondation Louis Vuitton, Martin Argyroglo.

Ranked: the top ten most popular shows in their categories from around the world, The Art Newspaper, 26 March 2018

Including Old Masters, Asian, Post-Impressionist and Modern.


The Fondation Louis Vuitton’s blockbuster smashes into the top spot, beating the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, which topped this category in our last survey. The Brazilian venue is the only free show—a contrast to 2016, when six of the top ten were free. The next best-attended charging show was Van Gogh in Melbourne—a familiar artist in this category, but at a venue that is more unlikely. It is striking that pre-war and European Modern art still edges post-war American developments in terms of public appeal: the Shchukin collection, with its Matisses, Gauguins, etc, and Mondrian, Van Gogh, Magritte, Picasso, Cézanne and Picabia all feature in the top ten. Rauschenberg is the only US artist in the list, while two of the showings of a touring Abstract Expressionism exhibition, at the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Royal Academy in London, were just outside the top ten.


The Tokyo National Museum is a regular in this category. There were 11,268 visitors a day to the blockbuster presentation of two-dozen sculptures by the celebrated Japanese artist Unkei (around 1150-1223). As the premiere sculptor of Buddhist figures in the early Kamakura period, he received commissions from some of the most prestigious temples and aristocratic families of the period. It is both the top exhibition in this category, as well as the most-visited show in our overall survey. Another exhibition on the Kamakura, at the Nara National Museum, pulled in 2,484 visitors a day over a three-month period. A newcomer to the list, however, is the institution behind the second most-visited show: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the last exhibitions staged under the leadership of the New York institution’s former director, Thomas Campbell, the major loan of  ancient Chinese art from the Qin and Han dynasties included more than 160 works from 32 institutions in China and was seen by 3,415 visitors a day.


The Japanese have an insatiable interest in European art from the 15th to the beginning of the 19th centuries, so it comes as no surprise that the three most heavily attended exhibitions in this category should have taken place in Tokyo, with Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel taking top spot. The exhibition in the Japanese capital showed an enlarged reproduction of the titular painting so that visitors could get a closer look at the hundreds of tiny figures depicted in the work. Of course, no matter where in the world, certain artists’ names are guaranteed to pull in the crowds: Vermeer and Caravaggio both did the trick for the Louvre last year. There are, at the same time, some surprises. Apart from experts or locals, who had heard of Giovanni dal Ponte or Cristóbal de Villalpando? Perhaps they are part of a new trend, following the unforeseen popularity in 2016 of the little-known Francesco Botticini.

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