Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Top 30 Art Galleries and Museums in the World in 2012

The Visitor Figures Survey (2012) - Exhibition & museum attendance conducted by The Art Newspaper provides a guide to which museums are doing well and which are experiencing a change in their fortune.

I am an extremely keen reader of the annual survey which collects the the (unaudited) visitor numbers reported by the museums to the paper. I focus on working out what has not been included in the associated survey report.

The numbers are only a guide to which are the top museums.  There are all sorts of problems (of the "apples and pears" variety) in terms of
  • how the numbers are collected and which are estimated and which are accurate (For example - this year the Louvre has managed to produce a return which isn't same rounded figure that it has had had for the last three years!)
  • which are for museums which charge and which are for museums which are free to enter.  
Nevertheless it's probably the best survey available of the relative popularity of the different art galleries and museums.

The survey focuses in the main on attendances at the art exhibitions and there's pages of analysis of those for people who like that sort of thing.  I'll be commenting later on what it says about exhibitions in the UK.

The Top 30 Art Galleries and Museums in the World in 2012

I've enhanced this year's listing to reflect the broad geographical area and whether performance is better or worse than last year. Following the top 30 list I have a commentary on what the list tells us this year.  The listing includes
  • the number of visitors, the name of the museum, and the city that the museum is located in - as per the Art Newspaper survey
  • the ranked position number and a colour code to indicate the location of the gallery or museum. This  colour coding enables you to see more easily where the the great museums are located.
  • An up or down arrow to the left of the visitor numbers which enables a quick check on whether a museum is doing better or worse than last year 
  • I've also indicated the new entries in the top 30 in 2012.
blue = UK
red = Europe
purple = Russia / ex USSR
orange = USA & Canada 
green = Asia
magenta = South America
light blue = Australasia

The arrows at the end relate to whether the number of visitors are up or down when compared to 2011.
- UP

The top 30 art museums and galleries in the world in 2012, based on their self-reported annual visitor numbers, are as detailed in the list below. 

Click the link in the name to find out more about the museum - in English!

The difference one painting can make - crowds viewing the Mona Lisa in The Louvre
Musée d'Orsay in Paris
  1. ▲ 9,720,260 LouvreParis  
  2. ▲ 6,115,881 Metropolitan Museum of ArtNew York 
  3. ▼ 5,575,946 British MuseumLondon 
  4. ▲ 5,304,710 Tate Modern, London 
  5. ▼ 5,163,902 National GalleryLondon 
  6. ▲ 5,064,546 Vatican Museums, Vatican City  NEW ENTRY
  7. ▲ 4,360,815 National Palace Museum, Taipei 
  8. ▼ 4,200,000 National Gallery of ArtWashington 
  9. ▲ 3,800,000 Centre PompidouParis 
  10. ▲ 3,613,076 Musee d’OrsayParis 
  11. ▲ 3,231,700 Victoria & Albert Museum London 
  12. ▼ 3,128,550 National Museum of Korea, Seoul 
  13. ▼ 2,882,385 State Hermitage Museum St Petersburg 
  14. ▼ 2,805,659 Museum of Modern Art New York 
  15. ▲ 2,640,264 National Folk Museum of Korea Seoul 
  16. ▼ 2,565,000 Reina Sofía Madrid 
  17. ▼ 2,235,354 Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil Rio de Janeiro 
  18. ▲ 2,096,858 National Portrait Gallery London
  19. 1,944,820 Shanghai Museum Shanghai
  20. 1,893,521 National Museum of Scotland Edinburgh
  21. ▲ 1,769,217 Galleria degli Uffizi Florence
  22. ▲ 1,735,600 Moscow Kremlin Museums Moscow
  23. 1,604,105 National Galleries of Scotland Edinburgh NEW ENTRY in top 30
  24.  1,590,608 Getty Los Angeles NEW ENTRY in top 30
  25. ▲ 1,571,333 National Gallery of Victoria Melbourne NEW ENTRY in top 30
  26. ▲ 1,536,833 Tate Britain London
  27. ▲ 1,518,927 Grand Palais Paris
  28. ▲ 1,504,286 Tokyo National Museum Tokyo
  29. ▲ 1,491,575 State Tretyakov Gallery Moscow NEW ENTRY in top 30
  30. ▼ 1,486,281 Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam
Side Entrance to Tate Britain
The key points are:
  • Museums dropping out of the Top 30 in 2012 include the Museo Nacional del Prado (Madrid) and the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago).  However this is because the Prado doesn't seem to have returned any figures as it's completely missing from the survey - which is very odd.
  • There is no question that attendance at the art galleries and museums in London definitely suffered from the Olympic effect - when everybody avoided going into the centre of London for about six weeks.  It therefore makes the phenomenal increase in visitors at Tate Modern that much more impressive.  Well done also to the National Portrait Gallery in London for bucking the trend of falling visitor numbers.  They topped 2 million visitors for the first time - helped no doubt by the extremely popular exhibition of Lucian Freud Portraits.
  • In general, visitors appear to have declined at a number of the top museums and art galleries in the top 20. Some museums are actually getting fewer visitors and yet rising in ranked position!
  • Numbers at individual museums vary from year to year depending on the extent of works relating to refurbishment and/or new galleries.  The Louvre has seen a massive jump in visitors this year and the new wing for Islamic art must have played a part in this.  
  • The major apples and pears issue for me concerns those places which are actually general arts centres rather than specific art galleries and museums (eg Centre Pompidou and the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil). I do hope that the survey addresses this at some point in the future.  It's my belief they do rather better in this survey than they do in reality.
  • The bottom quartile of the top 30 tends to be where the new entries arrive.
    • However the Vatican Museums have jumped straight in at #6 in 2012!  I can't find them in previous surveys so assume they haven't been approached previously and/or decided not to participate
    • Well done to Edinburgh for achieving two museums in the top 30 in 2012!  I'm guessing that aggregating the museums on different sites which are collectively known as the National Galleries of Scotland made a big difference to the count.
    • Well done also to Australia for getting its first museum in the top 30 - although National Gallery of Victoria is not the one which would have sprung to mind as being the first to achieve that accolade.
Tomorrow I'll be highlighting the top cities for art galleries in 2012 based on art galleries and museums in the top 100 most visited according to the data in the survey.

Later I'll be commenting on the top art exhibitions in the UK and the result of the three way 'fight' for visitors in 2012 between David Hockney, Damien Hirst and Lucian Freud.


  1. I am amazed that Musee D'Orsay visitors are outnumbered by Centre Pompidou (although not by many really). It's such a fantastic museum for art lovers and I think is a much better visit. I guess it's all down to personal opinion, and perhaps the fact that the Centre Pompidou is a better known name?

    Great list though. There are three in the top ten that I have not yet visited. Time to get my travelling boots on :-)

  2. I am totally convinced that the Centre Pompidou's figures are inflated by the fact they don't count the gallery aspects separate from the rest of the Centre - and, of course, it's an Arts Centre and not just a gallery.


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