Art Gallery of WA director Stefano Carboni.

With just three weeks remaining before the Art Gallery of WA packs up and sends home its Picasso to Warhol: Fourteen Modern Masters exhibition, the first in the Museum of Modern Art series is shaping up as the third most popular in the gallery's history.

It is likely to fall well behind the 170,000 people who saw the 2001 Monet in Japan show, which this exhibition surpasses in both scale and ambition, and the 138,000 visitors to Egyptian Antiquities from the Louvre in 2007.

Gallery director Stefano Carboni said about 110,000 people were expected to have seen MoMA's billion-dollar babies when the exhibition closes on December 3. He urged people not to leave it to the last minute to see the 130 masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and other modern masters, touring exclusively to Perth.

"We are going to have at least double the 53,000 people who came to the Peggy Guggenheim show (in 2010-11)," Dr Carboni said. "It is hard to give a proper estimate because I know there will be a big push at the end."

The gallery was harvesting Picasso to Warhol visitor data to improve its marketing for the next five shows coming to Perth under its partnership with MoMA.

"This is about building up the audience," Dr Carboni said. "I am not too worried about what will be the final attendance of this exhibition. What we want is for everyone who has seen the first to then come to see the second and then to build from there."

"We have a core audience of about 70,000 who come in any case. We can count on them but what we need to do is capture an equivalent number at least who may have an interest but don't know enough about the gallery or what is on."

In planning the exhibition and marketing campaign, Dr Carboni had initially thought that the MoMA brand name would be a sufficient drawcard but research revealed only 20 per cent of people were excited by that. "That's how we started to develop this campaign which was 'We have taken the heart of New York City and we have transplanted it to Perth'. That has been a much more positive and exciting message."

After visitor numbers continued to escalate over the first five weeks from its mid-June opening, attendances reached a plateau but were expected to increase again before December 3, he said.

"Perth's response to Picasso to Warhol has been simply wonderful and yet I still hear so many people saying they must visit the show before it closes."

Dr Carboni said the gallery was working hard on the second MoMA exhibition Picturing New York, more than 150 photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Lewis Hine, Helen Levitt, Cindy Sherman, Alfred Stieglitz and others.

"It promises to be both a fascinating exploration of the life of the city, and a documentation of photography's evolution throughout the 20th century," he said of the show which opens on January 26.

Once that closes in mid-May, the third show follows in June. Tentatively titled Van Gogh, Dali and Beyond: The World Reimagined, will feature landscapes, portraiture and still-life works by 70 artists including Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, Wesselman, Kahlo, Modigliani and Richter.

Over the remaining three weeks of the current show, the gallery will stay open until 8pm for After Work Wednesdays. This mid-week late opening has not been as popular as hoped so will not continue for the next exhibition.

However, the popular AGWA Nights music and art evenings on Friday will continue until November 23. Dr Carboni is keen to expand the music and film nights and other special gallery events over the rest of the MoMA series.

"It is about giving a different perception of the gallery. We want to lower the age of our visitors and doing these things has been extremely successful."

The film Andy Warhol will feature at the Picasso to Warhol Friends Film Festival Closing Party on Monday from 6-9pm. Members $55 and guests $65. Details: friends@artgallery.wa.gov.au.

The West Australian

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