When it comes to art, the Brazilians know what they like... lots of it

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The South American country leads the way with the most popular art exhibitions in the world

Forget the cultural hotspots of New York, London or Paris. The most popular art exhibition in the world last year was in a gallery in Rio de Janeiro, where 9,700 people flocking through the doors each day to see works by Max Escher.

Brazilian art lovers poured into The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) in Rio by their thousands in 2011. The building, which was previously a bank, hosted three of last year's 10 most popular exhibitions, according to research by The Art Newspaper.

The touring exhibition The Magical World of Escher, which ran in Rio from January to March, was visited by 573,691 people. An exhibition by Japanese video and photographic artist Mariko Mori saw a daily average of 6,991, while a show on Laurie Anderson brought in 6,934. All were free to enter.

Brazil's contemporary art scene continues to strengthen. It was given huge state support in the 1990s when corporate tax breaks were introduced for cultural investment.

One particular supporter of the arts is mining magnate Bernardo Paz, who opened the 3,000-acre contemporary art site, Inhotim, in 2006 in Belo Horizonte. Last year Inhotim attracted a total of 770,000 visitors. The Art Newspaper called Brazil's appetite for contemporary art "remarkable".

The Art Newspaper survey first started in 1996 when a show would need about 3,000 visitors a day to make the top 10. This year, it was more than double that. Four million people went to see the top 10 exhibitions 16 years ago. Almost six million went in 2011.

While the CCBB's exhibitions proved more popular on a daily basis, three shows attracted more visitors in total last year, but over a longer period. The most popular exhibition by total number visitors was of Claude Monet at the Grand Palais in Paris, hitting 913,000.

Not a single exhibition in the top 20 was in the UK, although experts pointed out that the blockbuster da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery started in 2011 and ran over into the new year.

The most popular show proved to be one of Gauguin's work at the Tate Modern which brought in 4,000 visitors a day. A British artist did figure, however, with Anish Kapoor's Monumenta, also at the Grand Palais, attracting 6,967 people a day.

Pulling in the punters: The top 10 exhibitions

1. The Magical World of Escher, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio, 18 Jan-27 Mar

The show brought together the Dutch graphic artist's most famous prints and drawings. It included 95 of Escher works and took curator Pieter Tjabbes five years to convince the museum in The Hague to allow them to travel.

2. Kukai's World: The Arts of Esoteric Buddhism, Tokyo, National Museum, 20 Jul-25 Sep

Japanese monk Kukai is the founder of the Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism in the early 800s, and used drawings to illustrate his teachings. The exhibition put 99 pieces on display.

3. Landscape Reunited, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2 Jun-5 Sep

A famous landscape painting executed in the Yuan dynasty was split in two, with one part kept in China and the other in Taiwan. The painting was reunited for the exhibition when China sent its piece over last year.

4. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 4 May-7 Aug

The exhibition to commemorate the British fashion designer's 19-year career was organised by the Costume Institute. It showed 100 of McQueen's ensembles

5. Claude Monet (1840-1926), Grand Palais, Paris, 22 Sep 10-24 Jan 11

The retrospective of the impressionist master's work mixed a range of famous and little known works among the 200 pieces. The range spanned his entire career from an emerging artist right up to his last pieces.

6. Photoquai, Musée du Quai, Branly, Paris, 13 Sep-11 Nov

The Photoquai is a biennial photography exhibition in front of theMusée du quai Branly. The exhibitions showcased pictures from 46 artists from all over the world.

7. Mariko Mori: Oneness, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio, 17 Apr-17 Jul

The exhibition of contemporary Mariko Mori's work in CCBB was the first time the contemporary Japanese artist's work had been seen in Brazil. It featured 10 installations which drew on engineering and cutting-edge design.

8. Monumenta: Anish Kapoor, Grand Palais, Paris, 11 May-23 Jun

The Bombay-born British sculptor was commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture to create an indoor art project to fill the vast Grand Palais exhibition hall.

9. Laurie Anderson, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio, 29 Mar-26 Jun

Multimedia artist Laurie Anderson displayed an eclectic mix of 31 works, including photographs, video, sound recordings, two and three dimensional instalments and footage of past performances.

10. The Prado Museum at the Hermitage State Museum, St Petersburg, 25 Feb-29 May

Visitors were able to see 66 works of art from the world-renowned Madrid Museum in the Nikolaevsky Hall of the Winter Palace in St Peterburg. It was the biggest exhibition organised of the works held outside Spain.

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