What Were the Most Popular Art Exhibitions of 2010?

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Suffice it to say that The Art Newspaper‘s 17th ­annual survey of exhibition attendance ­figures contains a few surprises — namely the fact that a brainy look at the intersection of photography and sculpture beat out Marina Abramović’s buzzed-about retrospective, and not one, but two of the shows in the top 10 feature the work of Japanese master painter, Hasegawa Tohaku. Click through to see which other exhibitions topped the list, and head over to The Art Newspaper for the full breakdown.

1. Hasegawa Tohaku at the Tokyo National Museum Visitors per day: 12,116

Hasegawa Tohaku, Pine Trees

This major retrospective, which marked the Momoyama era artist’s 400th anniversary, broke the museum’s previous attendance record, which was set back in2007 with The Mind of Leonardo. Featured works included Tohaku’s earliest paintings alongside later masterpieces (such as Pine Trees, pictured above) that would make him a favorite of the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

2. Post-Impressionism: from the Musée d’Orsay at the National Art Center Tokyo Visitors per day: 10,757

Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888. Oil on canvas, 28 ½ x 36 ¼ inches. © RMN (Musée d’Orsay)/Hervé Lewandowski

The Tokyo stop on this traveling exhibition’s world tour proved its most popular; the nearly 100 masterpiece paintings from the Musée d’Orsay’s collections included works by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, and Edouard Vuillard.

3. Designing the Lincoln Memorial at the National Gallery of Art, Washington Visitors per day: 9,290

Detail of the 6-foot plaster model (1916) of Abraham Lincoln by Daniel Chester French (1850-1831), for the Lincoln Memorial unveiled in 1922. Collection of Chesterwood, a National Trust Historic Site, Stockbridge, MA. Photo by Jerry L. Thompson, 2004. Courtesy Chesterwood, a National Trust Historic Site, Stockbridge, MA.

According to The Art Newspaper , a major selling point of this exhibition, which marked Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, was the free admission. Admittedly, the centerpiece, a 6-foot-high plaster working model of the monument, isn’t exactly what most people would call exciting.

4. Hasegawa Tohaku at the Kyoto National Museum Visitors per day: 9,908

Hasegawa Tohaku, Maple Tree

Hasegawa strikes again, this time in the same city where he spent most of his adult life. It was in Kyoto that he began to learn the techniques of the Kano school of painting, transforming himself from a virtual unknown to Kano Eitoku’s greatest rival.

5. Van Gogh: the Adventure of Becoming an Artist at the National Art Center Tokyo Visitors per day: 8,436

Vincent Van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles

Proof that Van Gogh can pull almost as much weight on his own in Tokyo as he did as part of the Musée d’Orsay show. The exhibition — which focused on his techniques — included works from both the Van Gogh Museum and Kröller-Müller Museum collections. It made three stops in Japan, but this one proved the most popular.

6. The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York Visitors per day: 8,073

Sibylle Bergemann. Das Denkmal, East Berlin (The Monument, East Berlin). 1986. Gelatin silver print, 19 11/16 x 23 5/8″ (50 x 60 cm). Sibylle Bergemann/Ostkreuz Agentur der Fotografen, Berlin. © 2010 Sibylle Bergemann/Ostkreuz Agentur der Fotografen, Berlin

To be honest, we were surprised to see this theme show place so high on the list. As Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times, “A blockbuster the new show is not. The opposite, I’d say. If you believe that art’s job is to deliver knockout visual goods at first glance, you’ll be happier spending your MoMA time in the current Matisse exhibition. If, however, you’re in the mood to see an array of images — odd, fabulous and often unfamiliar — telling a story of how two art forms, photography and sculpture, met, married, reproduced and virtually became one, then The Original Copy is for you.” We’re curious to see whether its current run at Kunsthaus Zürich proves as successful.

7. Harmony and Integrity: Yongzheng Emperor at National Palace Museum, Taipei Visitors per day: 7,873

Photo credit: Patrick Lin

This exploration of the artistic taste of the notoriously violent Qing dynasty Emperor Yongzheng is notable as the first cooperative exhibit with the Palace Museum in Beijing, which loaned out 37 prized cultural artifacts for the show.

8. Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Visitors per day: 7,380

Pablo Picasso, Nude on the beach (Nu debout au bord de la mer), 1929. Oil on canvas, 129.9 x 96.8 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn, 1995 © 2010 ProLitteris, Zurich

Some people questioned Met director Thomas Campbell’s decision to put up an in-house Picasso show from the museum’s existing collection of 34 paintings, 58 drawings, a dozen sculptures and ceramics, and hundreds of prints. Obviously it worked out well for him.

9. Marina Abramović: the Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art, New York Visitors per day: 7,120

Are you as excited as we are to see Abramović’s one-woman performance grace the top 10? Perhaps this is an indication that mainstream audiences are willing to embrace performance art if we’ll make it readily accessible. Or maybe anytime that an artist is willing to sit in a chair for 716 hours and 30 minutes, you’re going to draw a crowd…

10. Falnama: the Book of Omens at Freer and Sackler Galleries, Washington Visitors per day: 7,011

Joseph Enthroned from a Falnama (Book of Omens), the Iranian Safavid Dynasty, circa 1550 AD, housed in the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC

For this survey, Sackler curator Massumeh Farhad and co-curator Serpil Bagci, a professor in Ankara, brought together three of the four rare fortune-telling picture books known as Falnamas for the first time. The colorful, large scale paintings — the 16th/17th century equivalent of a Magic 8 ball in Iran and Turkey — were used to make life decisions about everything from marriage to travel.