The murmur you hear wafting down from Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street is the sound of genteel gloating. The Metropolitan Museum of Art just released its attendance figures for the fiscal year and, at 5.24 million, the total is their highest since 2001, when terrorism dented tourism to New York City. Better yet, the number nudged ahead of the total attendance at such other top City attractions as Yankee Stadium (about 4 million in 2009) and outpaced annual visitors at The White House and Graceland combined. Met Membership also hit a record high, of 138,000, the institution said.
Moreover, the Met pulled in people with shows that, for want of a tonier phrase, were from the basement. Director Tom Campbell said that three of the four exhibitions which were among the most viewed in the fiscal year were assembled from the Met’s existing holdings (in other words, not pricey imported loan shows). The trend “is especially heartening,” said Mr. Campbell, in a statement. (No word on whether the traffic will help solve some of the museum’s fiscal problems in recent years.) But the total “sends a signal about the enduring importance of culture and cultural institutions to the public, especially during this period of recession,” the director added.
The attendance breakdown, year-to-date, is Picasso in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with 380,574 visitors (it’s open until August 15); Vermeer’s Masterpiece The Milkmaid, with 329,446 visitors, and American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity (also open to August 15) with 175,033 visitors. Although it’s never crystal-clear how such counts are put together – don’t lots of people head for the mummies, the Monets, and the gift shop? – the Starn Brothers’ current show on the roof was also a big draw, the Met reported.
The U.S. still has a ways to go in the museum Olympics, however. When it comes to worldwide rankings, exhibitions in Paris and Tokyo were the most packed in 2009, according to The Art Newspaper’s stats for the calendar year.