The Other 9 Top-10 Shows at the Met


In case you hadn’t heard, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” topped out at 661,509 visitors during its May 4–Aug. 7 run (and was extended by one week to accommodate the massive crowds). Its high attendance, besides resulting in hours-long waits, secured the show a spot at number eight among the 10 best-attended shows in the Metropolitan Museum’s 141-year history. What were the other nine?


1. “Treasures of Tutankhamen,” showcasing the loot of the boy king in 1978–79, was visited by 1.36 million people. This exhibition was the prototype for the modern traveling blockbuster museum show, and was on the road internationally from 1972 to 1981.

2. “Mona Lisa” was the Met’s hostess with the mostess in 1963, welcoming 1,077,521 guests when she graced the museum, temporarily leaving her customary post at the Louvre.

3. “The Vatican Collections: The Papacy and Art,” in 1983, had 896,743 visitors. New York magazine reported at the time that in terms of square footage it was the largest show the Met had ever mounted.

4. “Painters in Paris: 1895–1950,” in 2000–01, drew in 883,620 visitors. Beginning with Monet’s Impressionist pictures, the show traced the city’s history in the development of modern art, and included 19 works by Picasso.

5. “Origins of Impressionism,” on view in 1994–95, was predictably well attended, clocking in at 794,108 visitors.

6. “The Horses of San Marco,” in 1980, corralled 742,221 guests by displaying one of the gilt bronze horses from the facade of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, along with related materials such as a horse drawing by Leonardo da Vinci.

7. “Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” 2010, drew in 703,256, a winning proposition for the museum: not a single work had to travel, as this was a showcase for works already in the collection.

9. “Jeff Koons on the Roof,” 2008, saw 657,801, many posing for pictures with the artist’s Balloon Dog.

10. “Doug + Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú,” in 2010, brought in 631,064 people, many of whom made appointments to climb around inside the bamboo structure.

A press release from the Met points out that while McQueen’s show was extended one week, further extension was impossible because the space was booked for ” ‘Wonder of the Age’: Master Painters of India, 1100–1900.” Asked if the latter will garner a spot in the top 10, the Magic 8 Ball replies, “All signs point to no.” The show attributes to specific painters works that were previously thought to be anonymous; they may very well prove no match for the bumster and the armadillo boot.