Tate Modern beats British Museum in battle of attractions


Tate Modern has usurped the British Museum as the country’s number one visitor destination less than 20 years after it opened its doors.

The gallery’s exhibition of Amedeo Modigliani’s nude paintings as well as its acclaimed extension are thought to have given it the edge in the annual battle between attractions. The British Museum, which attracted 40,000 fewer visitors than Tate Modern’s 5.87 million, had held the most-visited crown for a decade.

The overall figures, released today, showed that the 249 leading attractions in Britain recorded an overall 8 per cent increase in visitors last year, despite a drop in the number of overseas tourists.

Several outdoor attractions such as gardens and zoos suffered drops in visitors. This was put down to the Beast from the East, which brought springtime snow, and the summer heatwave.

Lord Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, which compiles the figures, said that given Tate Modern only opened in May 2000, its success was testament to the country’s appetite for modern and contemporary art. He said Tate Modern’s ziggurat extension, the Blavatnik Building, was still luring visitors after opening in June 2016 and it had held two hugely successful exhibitions: the Modigliani nudes and another focusing on Pablo Picasso’s 1932 “Year of Wonders”.

“Tate Modern in particular is very good at undertaking research into things its actual and potential visitors might be interested in,” Lord Donoghue said, adding that its experimentation with augmented reality elements for its Modigliani show had helped to elevate it to blockbuster level.

He added that it had also benefited from the typical 18-month “boom” in visitor numbers following the opening of new galleries or extensions.

The Royal Academy was boosted by the opening of its new campus, which along with its roster of exhibitions and its best-attended Summer Exhibition in a century, helped to draw in 52 per cent more visitors.

Frances Morris, Tate Modern’s director, called the figures a “thrilling endorsement”, adding that she hoped its achievement would “bring confidence to museums and galleries great and small across the country”. “Everything we do here is rooted in new research, artistic experimentation and with thought for local, national and international audiences,” she added.

Maria Balshaw, director of all the Tate museums, added that Tate Modern’s achievement within two decades was “testament to the hard work, energy and ideas of artists, our staff and our many supporters”.

Tate St Ives and Tate Liverpool also experienced large increases in visitor numbers as did Liverpool’s World Museum which recorded a 111 per cent boost, thanks to the success of its Terracotta Warriors exhibition.

The British Museum, which experienced a 1.3 per cent drop in numbers, had topped the list every year since 2008, when Blackpool Pleasure Beach dropped out of the association. In third place again in 2018 was the National Gallery, which had a 9.7 per cent increase in visitors, while the Natural History Museum was fourth.

The Southbank Centre rose to fifth after a leap in visitors following the reopening of the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. Its elevation pushed the Victoria & Albert Museum into sixth place, even though it recorded a 5 per cent increase in its numbers.