Pablo Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1905-06. (Metropolitan Museum of…)
With many art museums pondering how to boost attendance – and some critics, curators and museum directors wondering whether maximizing crowds is really the best measure of success -- it’s worth noting that Prada beat Picasso in recent blockbuster shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Met announced Friday that “three widely acclaimed and highly attended exhibitions” this year had boosted New York City’s economy by $781 million, with out-of-towners who came to the shows pouring an estimated $78.1 million into city and state tax coffers.
But perhaps most interesting from a Los Angeles perspective, given this summer’s debate over whether the Museum of Contemporary Art is putting too much emphasis on populist appeal, is that the Met’s fashion blockbuster, “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations,” outdrew “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde.”
It was close, with 339,838 attendees seeing the costume show that compared Italian fashion designers of different eras, and 323,792 turning out for a look back on how siblings Gertrude and Leo Stein helped launch modernism by championing and collecting art innovators of the early 20th century.
A spokesman for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where “The Steins Collect” was seen last year, said it drew 360,588 visitors there – the fourth largest in the museum’s history, even though there was a $7 surcharge on top of the regular admission price. (At the Met, savvy visitors who don’t mind appearing a bit cheap know that the $25 suggested admission is optional, and they’re free to pay whatever they like.)
Doing even better, attendance-wise, at the Met is an attraction that invites people to clamber through a 20-foot-high architectural installation on its roof. In its first 3 1/2 months – about the same length of time as “Schiaparelli and Prada” and “The Steins Collect” were on view -- “Tomas Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City,” a honeycomb-like assemblage of connected metal pods, drew 368,370 visits. It’s open through Nov. 4.
The Met has scored big with other fashion extravaganzas, including last year’s “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” which attracted a reported 661,509 visits. Overall, visits to the Met totaled 6.28 million in 2011 (including repeat attendees), the highest in more than 40 years.
Critic's Notebook: What MOCA's `Art in the Streets' numbers mean
Art review: The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde
Top-attended museum show of 2011 is a surprise
CRITIC'S PICKS: Fall Arts Preview
TIMELINE: John Cage's Los Angeles
QUIZ: The high price of art