In Paris, it was Beyoncé and Jay-Z; in Washington, it was Barack and Michelle Obama; while, in London, visitors queued to look at Pablo Picasso’s erotic muse or Grayson Perry’s summer picks.
Last year the lustre of celebrity, whether garnered from fashion and entertainment or history, seemed to be the best way to attract visitors to museums and galleries.
The Art Newspaper’s annual international survey Art’s Most Popular, to be published later this week, confirms that the public are most curious about names they already recognise. It also reveals that Tate Modern has knocked the British Museum off the top UK spot for the first time in nine years. This success is chiefly down to the appeal of its critically acclaimed exhibition, Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy.
The same effect was evident at the Louvre, where a decision to display Apeshit, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s music video, boosted annual visitor numbers by a quarter. At the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington a striking pair of portraits of the Obamas brought in a million more visitors.
As well as anointing Tate Modern as Britain’s top arts attraction, the survey, which draws on 22 years of data, will reveal that the gallery in Bankside has leaped to fifth position in the world, luring 5.9 million visitors in 2018. The V&A also drew in a record crowd, 178,000 more than the previous year, by focusing on familiar faces and names. Visitors headed to Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, a sold-out show about the Mexican artist, and to its show about Winnie the Pooh, as well as a stylish celebration of the work of the Spanish fashion designer Balenciaga.
Similarly, that the star potter Perry guest-curated the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts helped give it its most successful year on record. It also won the title of top ticketed exhibition staged in London last year. The Piccadilly gallery clocked up a good year, with a record 1.6 million visitors, helped by also being the venue for the city’s second most popular ticketed show – a revealing display of Charles I’s collection of Old Masters.