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AGO’s popular Mystical Landscapes exhibit boosts annual attendance

Mystical Landscapes turned out to be a big hit for the Art Gallery of Ontario. The show, which ran from Oct. 22 of last year to Feb. 12, drew 288,398 visitors, according to e-mails sent by the gallery to AGO members shortly after it closed. That makes it the sixth-most-attended exhibit in the gallery's history.

Conceived by Katharine Lochnan, the AGO's senior curator of international exhibitions, Mystical Landscapes featured masterpieces by many of the greatest artists of the late 19th century and early 20th century, including Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Vassily Kandinsky and Claude Monet.

It turned out to be the highest-attended AGO exhibit since Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris, which drew 308,776 people in 2012.

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(Other recent exhibits that made the gallery's all-time top 10 list were: Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting (186,847) and Alex Colville (166,406). On the gallery's list of all-time most popular exhibits, the No. 1 spot is still held by Treasures of Tutankhamun, which drew an astounding 750,000 visitors from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, 1979.)

"Mystical Landscapes is a fitting way for Katharine Lochnan to wrap up her impressive AGO career," said Stephan Jost, the gallery's director and CEO.

Lochnan recently retired after 47 years at the AGO. Mystical Landscapes was her final project. According to Jost, she has helped shape the AGO, because her reputation led to international partnerships.

Mystical Landscapes will move to Paris for a stop at the Musée d'Orsay, which partnered with the AGO to develop the exhibition. In Paris, where it runs from March 14 to June 25, its name will be tweaked to Beyond the Stars: Mystical Landscapes From Monet to Kandinsky.

"I'm particularly looking forward to seeing this, an AGO-generated show, installed at the Musée d'Orsay," Jost said. "It's terrific to see Canadian curators framing 19th-century art for Paris. The AGO is playing at an international level."

According to the AGO's press office, Mystical Landscapes was also a driver for selling memberships.

"We report membership numbers at the end of each fiscal year, since they can fluctuate greatly from month to month," said Caitlin Coull, associate director of communications. As a result, one might expect the next membership number to be significantly higher than the 92,100 reported on March 31, 2016.

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In response to a query about the AGO's target for annual attendance, Coull said the million-visitor mark is not a specific priority. Instead, the strategic plan is to deepen the gallery's relationship with its members and other visitors.

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