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View of “Kai Althoff: and then leave me to the common swifts,” 2016–17. Photo: Kai Althoff.

Kai Althoff

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

View of “Kai Althoff: and then leave me to the common swifts,” 2016–17. Photo: Kai Althoff.

AN ART MUSEUM is a public place. Yet this status is often challenged by the argument that it excludes vast sections of the public and ultimately serves only a narrow—even elite—audience. In response, museums mobilize an army of educators, organize participatory programming, and deploy endless wall texts in their efforts to engage a wider public, as if didacticism alone could improve class relations. In this contested climate, the measure of an exhibition’s success often becomes, by default, the breadth of its appeal, the sheer number of visitors it can draw to the museum.

From time to time, though, someone sets out on the opposite path, as if striving to make the museum not more but less accessible, to repel visitors rather than attract them. They may even proclaim that art’s ability to remain inaccessible within a public arena is one of its fundamental prerogatives,

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