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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 13:21 GMT
Religion not sensation, say art lovers
Tracey Emin's
Tracey Emin's "My bed" installation failed to pull punters
Dead artists and traditional themes are far more popular with the public than shows by current artists, a survey suggests.

Despite media fascination with Tracey Emin's slippers or the Chapman Brothers' vision of hell, the public only really turns out in droves for exhibitions of old masters or Impressionists, according to the survey for The Art Magazine.

The most visited show in the UK last year was Seeing Salvation, the National Gallery's millennium exhibition of images of Christ.

Monet's waterlillies
What the public wants is Monet, Monet, Monet, the survey suggests
Ossian Ward, exhibitions editor of The Art Newspaper, said: "It is very interesting that such a Christian theme could be a crowd puller.

"It was a gamble but it paid off."

Despite mediocre critical reviews the exhibition, which consisted of 70 portraits of Jesus, beat audience figures for contemporary shows like The Royal Academy's 'shocking' Apocalypse or the Turner Prize exhibition featuring Emin's notorious soiled bed.


The only contemporary show to make it into the top 10 was Apocalypse: Beauty and horror, billed as the sequel to the 1997 Young British Artists show Sensation.

The Royal Academy hoped to repeat the first show's success with Apocalypse, which featured a sculpture of the Pope being hit by a meteor.

Exhibitions like Apocalypse get hyped up, but they just didn't live up to it

Ossian Ward

However only 1,647 visitors a day came to see the show, compared with 5,002 to Seeing Salvation or 2,909 for Royal Academy's 1900: Art at the Crossroads exhibition which came third.

The Turner Prize exhibition with Emin's unmade bed surrounded by the debris of her life had just 1,201 visitors a day, though Mr Ward pointed out that it was a very small exhibition.

"Exhibitions like Apocalypse get hyped up," said Mr Ward, "but they just didn't live up to it."

But what people really want to see is Impressionists, absent this year on the UK list because there was no blockbuster featuring well-known early 20th Century painters.


"We had nothing this year of the magnitude of last year's visitor draw, the Royal Academy's Monet in the 20th Century, which pulled a huge 8,597 visitors a day and even had all-night opening hours," said Mr Ward.

La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) by Maurizio Cattelan
La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) by Maurizio Cattelan
In fact this is the first time in six years that no Impressionist show is in the top 20, though this is less to do with declining popularity than the lack of popular exhibits.

The single most popular exhibition in the world was a show of El Greco's work at the National Gallery in Athens, which had 6,843 visitors a day.

Mr Ward said he was "amazed" at this given the small size of the gallery.

El Greco was an artist who was born in Greece, travelled to Spain bringing a range of European influences together in his work.

For Mr Ward the real disappointment of the year was the performance of Tate Modern.

Though the new building on London's Bankside is drawing record visitor figures, nobody is paying to go to their opening exhibition Between Cinema and a Hard Place.

"I have high hopes that their latest exhibition will be more popular," he said.

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See also:

20 Sep 00 | UK
Art's shock treatment
19 Apr 99 | Entertainment
Monet show leaves big impression
23 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Sensation sparks New York storm
16 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Tracey makes a pile
17 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Emin's slippers fetch 5,500
25 Oct 99 | e-cyclopedia
Art attacks: Don't handle with care
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