Selfie culture takes over the museum

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A visitor to Happy Place, one of LA’s many “selfie museum” pop-ups.

Over the last year or so we’ve seen a trend for “made for Instagram” museums - collections of colorful sets designed for taking flattering self-portraits. 

They include the Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia, Happy Place, 14th Factory and, coming soon, a museum of optical illusions and the Museum of Selfies.

The latest was 29 Rooms, a pop-up of artist-created installations produced by the design and fashion website Refinery29, and branded by corporations -- including Toyota, Google Pixel, Marc Jacobs, Adidas and Netflix -- and nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood. 

The vivid, theatrical sets were selfie heaven but according to Refinery29’s co-founder Piera Gelardi, “our events are really rooted in storytelling and the celebration of creativity and self-expression.”

But why are there so many of these selfie pop-ups right now?

It’s partly to do with unused warehouse and former retail space that can be quickly filled with art for a month or two, explains LA Downtown News reporter Nicholas Slayton. It’s also a reflection of the decline of interest in retail.

And the Selfie-taking audience is highly sought after by “high art” museums. After all, Yayoi Kusama’s “infinity mirror rooms” show at the Broad Museum is the ultimate selfie ticket.

Which raises the question: how does selfie culture coexist with the fine art world?

DnA explores the phenomenon with escape room designer Tommy Honton, co-founder of the Museum of Selfies, coming soon to Glendale.

The museum won’t be “just a hall of Kardashian selfies,” Honton said. You will be able to study selfie culture as you take selfies.

He promises a selfie-taking set of the top of a skyscraper -- echoing the real skyscrapers that some selfie-takers have fallen off; and exhibits will draw attention to the story of Narcissus and the history of self-portraiture. 

Honton points out that historically only the rich could afford to pay an artist to preserve youthful images of ourselves. Now young people use selfies to achieve the same goal: to project status and show off their youthful looks.

“This selfie culture is not that different from how people have acted for 40,000 years,” he said.

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