The photographer’s Sydney retrospective closes with record attendance.

Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art has released the audience figures for its major exhibition Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life 1990 – 2005, and the results are astounding.

The comprehensive showcase of the celebrity portrait photographer’s work attracted 182,937 visitors from its opening in November 2010 to its final day, April 26, 2011. The extended six-month run has become the most popular exhibition ever presented at the MCA in both free or paid attendance, averaging 1,146 viewers per day. 

MCA director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor has seen an upward trend in attendance over the past three years, and in the case of Leibovitz credits a blend of highly staged celebrity portraits – Nicole Kidman, Queen Elizabeth II; lesser-known, spontaneous shots – pianist Mitsuko Uchida – and intimate autobiographical pictures including several of the photographer’s longtime friend Susan Sontag which document her terminal battle with cancer.

“During her visit to Sydney, Annie explained that this exhibition came together at a very particular moment in her life. She also said that she was unlikely to put such personal images on show again,” said Macgregor.

“I have no doubt that it is these personal images which provide an insight into her private life, coupled with the celebrity images that audiences know and love, that has made this exhibition so overwhelmingly popular.”

The colourful career retrospective of eccentric Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama brought 174,945 visitors to the gallery between February 24  and June 8, 2009, with free entry. Until now, it held the highest attendance record for any exhibition at the MCA.

Annie Leibovitz attendance was three times higher than the previous record for a paid exhibition at the MCA: Take your time: Olafur Eliasson attracted 63,080 visitors from December 10, 2009 to April 11, 2010.

Due to the MCA’s $53-million redevelopment plans, the building will be closed from late June until November 2011, with exhibitions presented off-site at the National Art School Gallery and The Rocks precinct.