Salon 4: High and Low examined the persistent juxtaposition between high and low culture, elite and mass appeal, fine and popular art, scholarly and journalistic writing, ivory towers and public squares. Many curators–and museum professionals more broadly–are haunted by the real and perceived tensions between the canonical power of the institutions in which they work and the influence of popular culture. From the Walker Art Center’s Internet Cat Video Film Festival to the Alexander McQueen show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, all the way to MoMA’s recent acquisition of several video games, the inclusion of popular culture in art museums always raises eyebrows, causes stiff upper lips to quiver, and makes a few outright apoplectic. This juxtaposition continues to heat up animated discussions. This salon set out to explore why.

These are some of the questions we asked our speakers and audience to consider:

  • Is the distinction between high and low culture still meaningful?
  • What is the role of popular culture in art museums?
  • What is the difference between popular and populist appeal?
  • Is popular success a manifestation of golden mediocrity?
  • Can a “high culture” institution maintain its precision and authority while making itself more accessible and engaging to the general public?
  • How do we move from ivory towers to beacons?
  • Can elitism ever be a good thing?

Reading Resources


Kim Hastreiter

Co-Editor and founder of Paper magazine, “the most sophisticated chronicle of New York’s heart-stopping cultural encephalogram over the past 29 years.”

Glenn Lowry

Director of The Museum of Modern Art

June Cohen

Executive producer of TED Media, the woman who put the TED Talks online, and disseminator par excellence

Michael Hirschorn

President and CEO of Ish Entertainment, former head of original programming at VH1,  journalist, and passionate advocate for popular culture