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After 150 Years, Looking Back at the Metropolitan Museum’s 10 Most Visited Exhibitions

The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the anniversary celebrations of the largest museum in the United States.

Installation view of Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination at the Met Museum’s Medieval Europe Gallery (all images courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Today, April 13, marks the 150th anniversary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was to be a festive occasion, launching a year of celebrations with special programming that was months in the making, but then the pandemic hit and rendered all plans null and void.

Established in 1870, the Met is the largest art museum in the United States with a collection of more than two million works of art across 17 curatorial departments. In 2019, it was the fourth most visited museum in the world with nearly 6.5 million visitors to its three locations.

Forced to close in the face of global crisis, the Met told its department heads last month that it expects to remain closed until July and that it projects nearly $100 million in losses.

In a statement today, the museum said, “Our hearts are heavy for New York and the entire world during this challenging time and in lieu of our planned celebrations, the Museum is using this moment to reflect on our community’s resilience and how art can offer comfort and inspiration, even in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Visitors view the Mona Lisa in the Medieval Sculpture Hall at the Met Museum on February 10, 1963

To mark the occasion, we’ve asked the Met for an updated list of its 10 most visited exhibitions of all time. Topping the list is the 2018 exhibition Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination with more than 1.6 million visitors. The museum’s Costume Institute is responsible for two other blockbuster exhibitions: Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology (2016) and China: Through The Looking Glass (2015), each drawing close to a million visitors.

Unsurprisingly, the list also features successes like Mona Lisa (1963), Treasures of Tutankhamun (1979), and a Picasso survey (2010). See the full list below:

  • Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination (May 10 – Oct. 8, 2018): 1,659,647 visitors
  • Treasures of Tutankhamun (Dec. 20, 1978-April 14, 1979): 1,360,957 visitors
  • Mona Lisa (Feb. 7-March 4, 1963): 1,077,521 visitors
  • The Vatican Collections (Feb. 26-May 12, 1983): 896,743 visitors
  • Painters in Paris (March 7, 2000-Jan. 14, 2001): 883,620 visitors
  • China: Through The Looking Glass (May 4-Sept. 7, 2015): 815,992 visitors
  • Origins of Impressionism (Sept. 27, 1994-Jan. 8, 1995): 794,108 visitors
  • Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology (May 5, 2016-Sept. 5, 2016): 752,995 visitors
  • Horses of San Marco (Feb. 1, 1980-Aug. 31, 1980): 742,221 visitors
  • Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (April 27-Aug. 15, 2010): 703,256 visitors
Visitors to Treasure of Tutankhamun at the Met Museum in 1979

In the meantime, while the museum is closed the institution is offering a vast amount of digital content on a webpage dedicated to its 150th anniversary. The digital offerings include a virtual preview of the exhibition Making The Met, 1870-2020, which will debut once the museum reopens.

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