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This New Exhibit Explores Selfies as Art

By Matt Villano

Apr 5, 2017

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It includes works by notable people such as Rembrandt, Stanley Kubrick, and Kim Kardashian.

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Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that selfies have become a mainstay of modern self-expression. Now, according to a report in the Guardian, a new exhibit at an art gallery in London takes the leap of exploring the photographic genre as an art form. 

The show, called From Selfie to Self-Expression, opened at the Saatchi Gallery last week. It looks back into history to find the roots of the modern-day selfie, spanning five centuries in the process. Among those works included: old-school self-portraits by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Francis Bacon, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as more modern digital self-snaps by Stanley Kubrick, George Harrison, Kim Kardashian (of course), Tom Cruise, and (wait for it . . .) a monkey from Indonesia.

Gallery curators believe the exhibit is the first-ever comprehensive look at the history of the selfie. All told, the show spans two floors and 10 rooms worth of work.

The classic “selfies” aren’t originals; instead, the gallery has snapped images of the originals and presents them in the form of a slide show, just as you’d see them on your iPhone or Galaxy S7 Edge. In a sarcastic nod to popular websites such as HotorNot.com, visitors are encouraged to vote for their favorites.

Newer selfies include a powerful pic from Nan Goldin taken one month after an episode of domestic violence, passport photos from a Colombian artist, and works by young British photographers who each were given a smartphone by the show’s sponsor, Huawei.

Then, of course, there’s the shot of the monkey (which actually led to quite a legal brouhaha). 

At times, however, it seems the exhibit bends the definition of “selfie.” A picture of five men atop a New York City building makes the cut, as does the infamous shot taken by former President Barack Obama with former British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Whatever your definition of selfie, the Saatchi exhibit is designed to inspire people to embrace the form. Gallery chief executive Nigel Hurst told the Guardian he hopes the lighthearted nature of the exhibit also helps to make art galleries less intimidating for newbies.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.

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