Art exhibit failed to hit visitor goal

Attendance numbers for the Nasher Museum of Art's "El Greco to Velazquez: Art During the Reign of Philip III" did not meet an ambitious goal set one year ago.

Although the 73,834 visitors who toured the show fell short of a 100,000-person target, officials said they were pleased with attendance and deemed the exhibit a success, citing the attention it brought to the museum and to Duke.

"When 70,000 people come through the Nasher Museum to see a show, that's a spectacular number," said Scott Lindroth, vice provost for the arts. "I'm very proud that the Nasher has taken this on, and it really helps establish the Nasher and Duke as a center for the arts."

The 100,000-person target was an estimate based on the proceeds the museum would need to cover the approximately $1 million cost of the show, but ticket sales only garnered $462,000, according to The Associated Press. Kim Rorschach, the Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans director of the Nasher, said officials were unsure what to expect in attendance.

"We were able to cover a significant portion of these costs through admissions revenue, membership and museum store revenues, audioguide sales and contributions to support the exhibition," she said.

The AP cited Rorschach as saying the Nasher might have to cut costs elsewhere as a result of the show's performance.

Rorschach declined to tell The Chronicle what those cuts might be but said a variety of options were on the table.

"El Greco" was based on groundbreaking research by Sarah Schroth, Nancy Hanks senior curator at the Nasher-work for which she was rewarded with a knighting by the Spanish government this month. The show also appeared at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where it also fell approximately 30,000 visitors short of its target.

Schroth said she was upset with reports by the AP and The (Durham) Herald-Sun characterizing the attendance figures as a major disappointment.

"This show brought so much to the Nasher and to Duke and to Durham," she said. "People don't realize this is special. Old masters are different from Impressionists... because their works are 200, 300 years older and more complex."

Lindroth said the University decided to put on the show aware that it might not break even because of the exhibit's caliber. He said it is important that universities support projects that might not bring in large revenues.

"You're speaking to a contemporary composer, and so for me it's self-evident that arts programming should include unfamiliar repertoires or bodies of work that we judge-and we have experts here-that this is something that's important," he said.

Citing coverage in major national newspapers and Schroth's knighting, Rorschach said "El Greco" was an important step in establishing the Nasher's name nationwide.

"The exhibition was beautifully presented and of the highest scholarly and artistic quality," she said. "I believe 'El Greco' was the most important old-master exhibition ever to be presented in the southeast United States. We attracted a huge number of visitors across a broad demographic range-K-12 and college students, adults, people from all over the region, all 50 states and many foreign countries."

She said there were no definite numbers available on how many students attended the show. However, an open viewing for freshman attracted 2,000, and 800 more came to a second student party. About 20 Duke classes came to the exhibition and 1,800 other student tickets were sold.

Final numbers on the show's revenues are expected at the end of this week, Schroth said.


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