Michelangelo Mania Rocketed the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Break Its Record for Annual Attendance

The New York museum is on a tear, also scoring some extraordinary donations.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michelangelo visits the Metropolitan Museum on Thursday, January 25, 2018. Photo by Rebecca Schear, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michelangelo visits the Metropolitan Museum on Thursday, January 25, 2018. Photo by Rebecca Schear, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Some good news from the Metropolitan Museum of Art after ups and downs with senior management and budgetary woes: Today the storied New York museum announced attendance of 7.35 million visitors in its fiscal year ended June 30. The number represents a five percent increase from seven million from the previous year, and a new all-time record.

The figure includes visitors to all of the Met’s three locations: the main building on Fifth Avenue; the Met Cloisters, which is located in Washington Heights and focuses on medieval art; and the most recent addition, the Met Breuer, a Madison Avenue outpost that was formerly home to the Whitney Museum before the latter decamped downtown to the Meatpacking District.

The number of visitors marks the highest in the museum’s recorded history. That success is due in no small part to the record-breaking attendance for “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” which ran from November to February and drew 702,516 visitors all on its own.

That makes “Michelangelo” the tenth-highest attended show in the Met’s history, topping the 661,509 who came out for “Alexander McQueen” in 2011, but falling just shy of the 703,526 visitors to “Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” in 2010. It even drew a visit from a certain Ninja Turtle who shares a name with the Renaissance master.

The Met as seen from Fifth Avenue. Photo courtesy of the Met.

The Met as seen from Fifth Avenue. Photo courtesy of the Met.

The Met also announced that the institution received over $250 million in philanthropic gifts, membership contributions, and government support, the highest total in recent years and an improvement on the $200 million in the previous fiscal year. Among the highlights was a gift of over $80 million from trustee Florence Irving and her late husband, Herbert, one of the largest single gifts in recent history.

“The Met prides itself on serving the public through our collection, exhibitions, and education programs,” president and CEO aid Daniel H. Weiss, said in a statement, adding, “Importantly, we’re gratified to recognize that these offerings not only resonate with our visitors but also inspire extraordinary support.”

In early January, the museum announced it would start charging out-of-state visitors mandatory admission for the first time in 50 years, beginning in March. Though the shift prompted heated debate, it doesn’t appear to have dampened enthusiasm or attendance for the institution—at least in the past three months.

This past April, after months of speculation and a year-long search, the Met announced the choice of Max Hollein, the well-respected former director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and a seasoned museum leader, as its new director. Hollein takes up his new role in August.

His predecessor Tom Campbell’s nine-year tenure was marred by accusations of mismanagement, both of staff and finances, though he presided over significant visitor growth, including a 6.35 percent attendance bump in the 2015–16 fiscal year. (The rate of growth has slowed down slightly since then, this year hitting 4.29 percent.) It was under Campbell’s tenure that the Michelangeo show was set in motion.

Campbell stepped down in 2017. Subsequently, the Met tweaked the director position, and Hollein will report to Weiss. Both men will be responsible for fundraising, though the bulk of the financial management will fall to Weiss while Hollein will focus on the artistic direction of the institution.


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