A 1893 illustration by Baron C. De Grimm shows emotional museum gallery visitors moved to tears by art. (via public-domain.zorger.com)

A 1893 illustration by Baron C. De Grimm shows emotional museum gallery visitors moved to tears by art. (via public-domain.zorger.com)

The Art Newspaper‘s annual museum attendance figures for 2012 were recently released and there were no real surprises, except that the Tate Modern has overtaken the National Gallery in the fourth spot, DC’s National Gallery of Art slipped to 8th, and Seoul’s National Museum of Korean fell out of the top 10 to 12, while the Vatican Museums (which was not included on the 2011 list) entered the list in the 6th spot.

It’s worth mentioning that the Louvre did add another million visitors to its annual tally keeping it far ahead of the number two museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which showed a small increase from the previous year but was over 2.5 million visitors behind the Parisian behemoth.

European museums certainly dominate the museum list (over 50% of the Top 100 are located in Europe) and institutions in London, New York, and Paris are home to 10 of the Top 20 most visited museums in the world.

North American and Asian museums each represent roughly 15–20% of the list, while 8% of the museums on the list are Australian (a surprisingly large number for such a statistically small region), and only three are South American — though the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro is listed at the 17th spot.

It’s curious that no African museums, including those in Egypt and South Africa, made the cut. Egyptian museums may be reeling from the post-Revolution tourist slump that has never recovered, but judging by the crowds that normally flock to the famed Egyptian Museum in Cairo, it’s hard to believe that the institution didn’t attract over 645,000 visitors — the number of visitors for the last museum (Gwangju National Museum, Gwangju) on the global list.

Here is the list of top 20 museums:

  1. Louvre (Paris) 9,720,260 (8,500,000 in 2011) *Top in Europe
  2. Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) 6,115, 881 *Top in North America
  3. British Museum (London) 5,575,946
  4. Tate Modern (London) 5,304,710
  5. National Gallery (London) 5,163, 902
  6. Vatican Museums (Vatican City) 5,064, 546
  7. National Palace Museum (Taipei) 4,360,815 *Top in Asia
  8. National Gallery of Art (DC) 4,200,000
  9. Centre Pompidou (Paris) 3,800,000
  10. Musee D’Orsay (Paris) 3,600,000
  11. Victoria & Albert Museum (London) 3,231,700
  12. National Museum of Korea (Seoul) 3,1289,550
  13. State Hermitage Museum (St Petersburg) 2,882,385
  14. Museum of Modern Art (NYC) 2,805, 659
  15. National Folk Museum of Korea (Seoul) 2,640,264
  16. Reina Sofia (Madrid) 2,565,000
  17. Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro) 2,235,354 *Top in South America
  18. National Portrait Gallery (London) 2,096,858
  19. Shanghai Museum (Shanghai) 1,944,820
  20. National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh) 1,893,521

… 25. National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne) 1,571,333 *Top in Australia … No African museums are listed in the Top 100.

In terms of art exhibition attendance, The Art Newspaper had this to say:

The word “masterpiece” appeared in the title of 22 [of the top] shows in the survey, often followed by “from the.” Besides the Mauritshuis, Orsay and Hermitage, lending institutions that sent shows abroad which attracted big crowds included the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Madrid’s Prado and the Musée National Picasso, Paris. Boston’s Japanese art and the Prado’s Goyas were popular in Tokyo. Picassos from the Musée National Picasso pulled in the crowds (and income for the Paris museum, which is closed for refurbishment) in Toronto and Sydney as they did in 2011 in Seattle, San Francisco and Richmond, Virginia.

Other surprising facts about the top global exhibitions:

  • Washington, DC hosted five of the top 10 Asian art shows in the world (the other five were in Asia)
  • the top Ancient Art shows were Golden Age of the Rui State at the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai (6,108 visitors a day) or Pergamon: Panorama of the Ancient Metropolis at the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin (1,500,000 visitors) — depending on what criteria you use
  • the top architecture/design show were Santiago Calatrava: The Quest for Movement at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (5,217 visitors a day) and Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream at New York’s MoMA (569,346 visitors)
  • the top 19th C. show was Nineteenth-century Italian Painting at the State Hermitage Museum (425,000 visitors), which seems like a surprising show to top this category
  • the top Old Masters show was Masterpieces from the Mauritshuis at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Tokyo (758,266 visitors, 10,573 visitors a day)
  • the top Medieval show is Golden Flashes at the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence (789,241 visitors), but all the other top Medieval shows have lukewarm attendance numbers (almost all under 100,000 visitors)
  • the top contemporary art show (depending on your criteria) were both in Europe: David Hockney RA: a Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts in London (7,512 daily visitors) and Back to Art at Galleria dell-Accademia in Florence
  • the top Impressionist & Modern show was De Kooning: a Retrospective at New York’s MoMA (696,362 visitors)
  • the top Photography shows were Little Black Jacket at London’s Saatchi Gallery (6,716 daily visitors) and MoMA’s Cindy Sherman (605,586 visitors)
  • in the “Big Ticket” category (which includes nontraditional exhibitons) the Tate Modern swept the top three spots with The Unilever Series: Tino Sehgal (1,661,003 visitors, 17,124 a day), The Tanks: Art in Action (2,050,197 visitors), and The Unilever Series: Tacita Dean (1,841,011 visitors)

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.