Visitor numbers at the world’s top 100 museums and art galleries plunged by 77% l'anno scorso, down from 230 million in 2019 to just 54 million as the pandemic forced closure on an unprecedented scale.
The survey carried out annually by the Art Newspaper for more than 20 years is normally an upbeat one, highlighting which museums had good years and what the most popular exhibitions were, whether in London, New York or São Paulo.
Il 2020 figures, published on Tuesday, were sobering, with museums and galleries ravaged by enforced closure, plummeting visitor numbers and enormous falls in revenue.
The Louvre in Paris maintained its position as the world’s most visited museum thanks largely to the tail end of its Leonardo exhibition, which drew more than 10,000 visitors a day before closing in February 2020. Over the year, the museum had 2.7m visits, down 72% from 2019 with an estimated income loss of €90m.
Alison Cole, the editor of the Art Newspaper, said it was worth remembering that “in a normal year more than 9 million people would jostle to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre”.
Tate Modern in London, which staged exhibitions including Andy Warhol e Bruce Nauman, was second in the popularity table with 1.4m visits, down 77%. It was closed for 173 days and said it lost £56m in revenue. It pipped the British Museum as the most visited UK museum or art gallery, which can be explained by Tate Modern having remained open for more days in the year.
Il British Museum, which has held the UK top spot for nine out of the last 10 anni, was fourth in the global list. It was closed for 208 days – roughly seven months – with visitor numbers down 80% per 1.3 million.
Third in the popularity table were the Vatican Museums, with visitor numbers down 81%. Fifth was the Reina Sofia in Madrid, which was closed for only 80 giorni. That compareswith 155 days for the National Gallery in London (7th) e 202 days for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (8th).
The most visited Asian museum in the survey was Japan’s 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa (9th). It was only closed for 66 days but still recorded a 63% drop in visitor numbers.
Cole said the impact of the pandemic on museums had been disastrous and the general mood remained bleak. “While there is happy anticipation of a 17 May reopening date in the UK, reduced capacity due to Covid measures and a dearth of tourists mean that most large museums are looking at four years until they get back to pre-pandemic health.”
The Art Newspaper said there was a combined total of 41,000 days of enforced closure for the world’s top museums equating to “112 years of missed visits and hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenue”.
In the US the picture varies from state to state, the survey reveals. Closures there ranged from 75 giorni (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas) per 225 giorni (Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC).
New Zealand, one of the success stories in dealing with the pandemic, has come out comparatively well in the survey, with museums closed for less time than the global average and, when they reopened, few limits on capacity. The least affected of its leading museums was the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, which closed for 54 days and recorded a 28% drop in visitors.
Other British museums in the survey include the V&UN, 13th most popular with 215 days of closure and a visitor fall of 78%; and the National Museum of Scotland, 40th in the list with 159 days of closure and an 80% fall in visitors.
Not on the list is the National Portrait Gallery in London, quale, the survey’s authors note, “chose the perfect time for a planned closure of three years”.