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National Portrait Gallery boss says he comfortable with losing visitor numbers in name of diversity as 100k desert museum

The British Museum has fallen to sixth place with 5.82 million visitors, with a spokesman magnanimously saying:  "We congratulate Tate Modern on being the UK's leading visitor attraction.”

The Royal Academy was singled out for praise in the report, enjoying record numbers in its 250th anniversary year. The Summer Exhibition, guest-curated by Grayson Perry, was the most popular ticketed event in London with 300,000 people.

The Victoria & Albert Museum, which held exhibitions on Frida Kahlo, Winnie-the-Pooh and fashion house Balenciaga, also reported a record year, with four million visitors, while the National Gallery is also in the international top 10.

Dr Cullinan told the newspaper a “league table only tells part of the complex story of how cultural institutions reach and engage audiences”.

“It had been suggested that some of our contemporary programme was causing this fall in attendance,” he said.

“If the implication of this criticism is that we and other museums should not programme contemporary artists (which in our case happen to be mostly women) and only feature well-known names, I think we have a problem with metrics that focus on quantity alone."

He added: “We should be very cautious not to make this the only way we judge success or to diminish the (necessarily) multifaceted achievements of museums and galleries and the different roles, remits and audiences, both large and small, they exist to serve.

The Louvre remains the most visited museum and gallery in the world.

The Paris institution had credited its boost of popularity in 2018, which saw a 26 per cent rise in visitors to a record 10.2million, in part to a music video by Beyonce and Jay-Z, filmed in front of star paintings including the Mona Lisa.

The success of a gallery should not be measured by its number of visitors, the director of the National Portrait Gallery has said, as he suggests a significant drop in its figures is a price he is willing to pay for greater diversity.

Nicholas Cullinan, whose National Portrait Gallery has seen around 100,000 fewer visitors in 2018 than it did in 2017 according to a survey by The Art Newspaper, said it would be “easy” to programme blockbuster exhibitions to suit the masses.

But, he said, it was more important to fulfil its mission to “speak to different audiences” and “reach out” to new visitors by programming exhibitions featuring diverse contemporary artists.

A study by The Art Newspaper found the gallery had 1,586,451 visitors in 2018, compared with 1,703,411 in 2017.

Its statistics also showed that, for the first time in nine years, Tate Modern overtook the British Museum as the most popular UK arts institution, with 5.9 million guests making it the fifth most-visited gallery in the world thanks to major exhibitions including Picasso.

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