The 2010-2011 season was a record-setting one for the Metropolitan Museum, which, with the help of the Costume Institute's blockbuster retrospective of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, saw 5.6 million visitors during the year that ended in June 2011. That's double the Museum of Modern Art's attendance figures for the same period, which dropped significantly from the previous twelve-month period.
MoMA's 2.8 million visitors between July 2010 and June 2011 amounted to an 11 percent drop from the year before (which saw 3.1 million visitors), Bloomberg reports, in no small part due to that earlier season's powerful blockbuster combo of Tim Burton and Marina Abramovic. Last season's most high-profile MoMA shows, on the other hand, were Abstract Expressionist New York, an exhibition of Picasso's guitars and a very focused Matisse retrospective.
MoMA spokeswoman Kim Mitchell tells Bloomberg that the Midtown museum expects attendance to change little this season, although blockbuster like the design extravaganza Talk to Me and retrospectives of Cindy Sherman and Willem de Kooning might buoy those numbers.
The Met, meanwhile, owes a substantial portion of its record-setting attendance numbers to Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, which, with 660,000 visitors, became the 141-year-old museum's eighth best attended show ever. Because that exhibition extended into the current season, it will provide the Met a bit of an attendance boost in this year's figures. The Costume Institute will try to repeat its coup when Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: On Fashion opens in May.
Eschewing the blockbuster format somewhat, the Met is focusing on expanding new galleries and showcasing its permanent collection. The Upper East Side museum earned widespread praise in November for its new galleries of Islamic art, and opens new galleries of American art on Monday. Its upcoming exhibitions likely to provide a significant attendance boost include The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde (February 28—June 3) and Bellini, Titian, and Lotto: North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo (May 15-September 3).
Both museums increased their admission fees to $25 in 2011 (the Met's admission is suggested), and both announced plans to take over other museums' buildings: the Met will rent the Whitney's Madison Avenue building when it moves to its new Meatpacking District home in 2015; MoMA bought the ailing American Folk Art Museum building next-door, but has yet to announce plans for the structure. It's also working with a developer to add galleries inside a forthcoming skyscraper in the lot immediately to the west.
Bloomberg notes that both of New York City's biggest art museums ended the 2010-2011 season with a surplus and made good on their investments, but will need many more blockbuster shows to help finance their expansion plans.