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These Were 2018’s Most Popular Art Exhibitions and Museums

Celebrities including Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Rihanna and the Obamas helped galleries achieve record-breaking visitor numbers

Beyoncé and Jay-Z filmed their "Apeshit" music video at the Louvre, further publicizing the already iconic museum (Universal Music)
smithsonian.com

Call it the Beyoncé bump. Last year, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Apeshit” music video—filmed at the Louvre in June 2018, it features sweeping shots of the museum’s prized works of art, from the “Mona Lisa” to the limbless “Winged Victory of Samothrace”—helped facilitate a 25 percent rise in annual visitor numbers. Not only did the Carters’ collaboration put the museum well on its way toward welcoming a record-breaking 10.2 million visitors in 2018, but it also firmly entrenched the Paris institution's spot at the top of the Art Newspaper’s annual survey of the world’s most popular art museums.

With no change in the overall top four—the Louvre, the National Museum of China, the Met and the Vatican Museums—from 2017, the big takeaway from the survey, which also charts the year's most popular art exhibitions, was that fashion, big-name artists, celebrity ties and Instagram appeal all commanded art lovers’ attention.

Although the Art Newspaper’s Emily Sharpe and José da Silva report that the Shanghai Museum gets bragging rights for hosting five of the year’s top 10 most popular exhibitions, the number one spot went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s genre-bending Heavenly Bodies show. The exhibition, spotlighting the intersection between fashion and Catholicism, benefitted from an array of celebrity links: It was coordinated with the help of Vogue editor and fashion icon Anna Wintour and garnered headlines for inspiring, among other things, Rihanna’s glitzy, mitre-capped look at the 2018 Met Gala. Averaging 10,919 daily visitors, the show wasn’t just the most-frequented art exhibition this year. It also set a record for being the Manhattan institution’s most popular exhibition of all time, easily outpacing a 1978 blockbuster titled Treasures of Tutankhamun, as Eliza Brooke reported for Vox in October of last year.

Meanwhile, the highly Instagrammable installation Almost Home, on view at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, came in third, attracting some 7,853 visitors per day. The social media-friendly aspect of the show, featuring Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh’s labyrinthine network of colorful fabric sculptures, was a boon. “When people come into the show, they are smiling, looking up and around,” curator Sarah Newman told Smithsonian.com's Glenn Dixon last April. “I've been thinking about it as similar to the experience of the cherry blossoms, which affects the air and the quality of the light.”

While the top four most-frequented art museums didn’t change, there was a shakeup in the bottom half of the list. With a one-spot bump to fifth place, Tate Modern unseated the British Museum’s nine-year record to claim the title of most-visited U.K. museum. London’s National Gallery followed behind the British Museum in seventh place. D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum rounded out the placements.

The Guardians Vanessa Thorpe attributes much of Tate’s success to its Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy exhibition. Honing in on the V&A, which welcomed 178,000 more visitors than in 2017, Thorpe points to the significance of the museum’s Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up show and a celebration of Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga. (This year, the V&A’s Christian Dior and Mary Quant exhibitions will continue the fashion-centric trends sparked in 2018.)

While the National Portrait Gallery didn’t crack the top ten, it nearly doubled its existing record, ushering in 2.3 million visitors eager to catch the unveiling of portraits depicting former presidential couple Barack and Michelle Obama. Painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, curator Dorothy Moss predicted at the unveiling ceremony that "these artists are going to change the face of the Portrait Gallery with these presidential commissions.” Her prediction has proven apt—in 2018, the bold canvases contributed to a roughly one million-person rise in visitors.

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