By ELIZABETH HAYES
Everyone expected the Van Gogh exhibit be a blockbuster. But who would have thought that the smaller and less-promoted Diego Rivera exhibit also would pack them in at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art?
"Diego Rivera: Art and Revolution," an exhibit of 64 paintings and 37 works on paper by the late Mexican artist, drew 181,000 visitors the museum's third most attended exhibit in the past eight years and the 12th most popular ever staged there.
Toward the end of its run, the line snaked outside the complex and down the block, with visitors waiting 90 minutes or more on the final weekend.
"It certainly exceeded our expectations. We were not expecting those numbers," said museum spokesman Adam Coyne. "There's an affinity for Diego Rivera in L.A."
That's primarily due to the large Latino population here a fact not lost on LACMA.
In presenting the show, the museum partnered with KMEX-TV Channel 34, the area's top-rated Spanish-language broadcaster. A special "KMEX Viewer Day" drew 11,000 visitors on a Sunday, the highest one-day attendance ever for an exhibit that didn't require a separate ticket.
"There's an interest in the general population in things Latino, and the fact that Rivera visited L.A. It was a smart choice," said Robert Barrett, vice president of domestic marketing for the L.A. Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They reached an audience that perhaps had never been there."
Indeed, LACMA has been on a roll lately. In recent months, the Van Gogh, Picasso and Rivera exhibits became the top three shows staged in the past eight years, Coyne said.
Van Gogh drew 821,000 visitors while Picasso attracted 243,000. Museum memberships doubled to 120,000 in the past year, driven by the fact that new members were offered two free tickets to the Van Gogh and Picasso shows.
Barrett said the recent shows indicate that LACMA is back in the "blockbuster business" after a decade-long dry spell. Staging the three major exhibits ran counter to practices among many of the nation's top museums, which for years chose to highlight their core collections rather than temporary exhibits by acclaimed artists.
Barbara Whitney, associate director of administration and public affairs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, said all L.A. museums have benefited from heightened public interest. "We're all feeling happy," Whitney said, noting that LACMA has taken the lead in promoting and advertising its exhibits.
The next big show, "Pompeii: Life in a Roman Town," opens in October. LACMA is the only U.S. venue that will host the show, which features art objects and tools used during everyday life in Pompeii, the Italian city destroyed by an erupting volcano.
The museum hasn't made any attendance projections yet.
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