What Were the Most Popular Art Exhibitions of 2011?


What do Alexander McQueen, a 9th-century monk, and Laurie Anderson have in common? Each year The Art Newspaper publishes a survey of the top-attended museum exhibitions around the world, and this go around, they are all on it. As always, the survey contains a few surprises — like the fact the most popular show worldwide was an M.C. Escher retrospective held in a former bank in Rio de Janeiro. Click through to find out what other crowd-pleasers made the top 10, and head over to The Art Newspaper for a full breakdown of the numbers.

1. The Magical World of Escher at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil Visitors per day: 9,677

No doubt the numbers at the Rio stop of this touring exhibition were helped out by the fact that admission was free.

2. Kukai’s World: the Arts of Esoteric Buddhism at Tokyo National Museum Visitors per day: 9,108

Image credit: Jeffrey Kotyk

Kukai, one of Japan’s best-known monks, is credited with bringing “Esoteric Buddhism” with him from China in the early 9th century. This show featured 99 items related to the Buddhist priest, including many certified national treasures pulled form traditional temple locations.

3. Landscape Reunited at the National Palace Museum Visitors per day: 8,828

Considered one of the most important works in Chinese painting, Huang Gongwang’s 660-year-old Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains — a torn scroll which has been separated into two sections, with one part in China, the other, Taiwan, since 1940 — was exhibited in its entirety at Taipei’s National Palace Museum.

4. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Visitors per day: 8,025

Alexander McQueen, Dress, autumn/winter 2010–11. Courtesy of Alexander McQueen. Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce

This writer stood in line for over two hours to see the Costume Institute’s posthumous tribute to the famed fashion designer — and it was worth every minute to get such a close-up look at his incredible, intricate work.

5. Claude Monet (1840-1926) at the Grand Palais Visitors per day: 7,609

Claude Monet, Quai du Louvre, 1867. Courtesy of Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag, The Netherlands

This blockbuster exhibition featured nearly 200 career-spanning works by the famed Impressionist, including all of the biggies, making it the first show of its kind to go up in Paris in decades. Here’s how you know it was major: President Nicolas Sarkozy contributed a note in the catalog, calling the exhibition an “unmistakable emblem of the international influence of French culture.”

6. Photoquai at Musée Quai Branly Visitors per day: 7,304

The third edition of this free, outdoor biennial of non-Western photography featured six artists from 29 countries, including China, Thailand, Russia, and Tanzania.

7. Mariko Mori: Oneness at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil Visitors per day: 6,991

Another free show at Rio’s Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, this time featuring the work of Tokyo-born, New York-based contemporary artist Mariko Mori. When viewers hugged one of the six “alien” figures featured in Oneness, it would light up as “a symbol of the acceptance of otherness and a model for overcoming national and cultural borders”; Wave UFO, the work pictured above, was equally interactive, visually interpreting participants’ brainwaves on its interior walls.

8. Monumenta: Anish Kapoor at the Grand Palais Visitors per day: 6,967

Image credit: © designboom

Equal parts cathedral and womb, this temporary, site-specific installation inside of the belle époque exhibition hall at Paris’ Grand Palais really drew in the crowds. “The difficulty of the space is its scale — when you are inside and enclosed, it’s almost bigger than being outside,” the Indian-born, British-based artist said of Leviathan. “I want the viewer to have a moment of shock, aesthetically but also physically, so that when you enter the nave you raise your eyes and say: ‘wow! could it be like that!'”

9. Laurie Anderson at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil Visitors per day: 6,934

Photo credit: Cristina Granato

Are you starting to sense a pattern here? Yes, it’s another extremely popular free exhibition at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil. It’s also worth noting that this was Anderson’s first solo show in the country, which probably contributed to the crowds of nearly 7,000 visitors per day. “It’s a show about stories,” she explained of the 31 works that were on display. “You see stories inside violins…you see stories written, you see stories in music… it’s stories…that’s what I love.”

10. The Prado Museum at the Hermitage Visitors per day: 6,649

For the initial installment of this two-part exhibition exchange, the Prado Museum in Madrid created its own mini-museum inside of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, whose storied collection was begun by Catherine the Great. The 66 works on display — which included paintings by Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, and Goya — constituted the largest exhibition of the museum’s collection ever organized outside of Spain.