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The rise of selfie museums

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The "selfie factory" has taken over Los Angeles.

DnA recently visited 29Rooms, billed as "an interactive funhouse of style, culture, & technology." It's the creation of design and fashion website Refinery 29. It launched in Brooklyn three years ago and was staged in various warehouses. It just opened in a huge tent in downtown LA, in the parking lot of the American Apparel warehouse, and tickets immediately sold out.

It's a series of 29 artist-created installations. One features mannequins with TV set heads. Another features hanging vines and flowers. There's one with a stage and you can pose like a cabaret singer. Another looks like a giant typewriter and the Joan Didion quote behind it that says "We tell ourselves stories in order to live."

However, what's notable about most of these installations is they are branded. So for example you can see an installation of a multicolored movie backdrop of Los Angeles, with the all-new Toyota Camry centrestage. A flying astronaut "extra" is said to enhance the feeling of interactivity but it points out the 2018 model's sunroof.

A company spokesperson said, "We are planning on having Toyotas make you feel things, we want you to feel what it's like to drive the new Toyota Camry."

But that sits next to another kind of branding, aimed at millennial women, like an installation of neon signs of female reproductive systems and the phrase "I Stand With Planned Parenthood."

And this is just one of many such places: the Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia, 14th Factory, Happy Place, and the forthcoming Museum of Selfies. Why are these are so popular?

Well, Instagram is huge and that's where people are conversing through images.

Also, selfies are becoming a primary form of expression for young people. It's a way of marketing oneself on dating sites and apps. It's a reason why artists like Yayoi Kusama, who just opened a show of her infinity mirror rooms at the Broad a few weeks ago, are so popular.

By placing oneself inside the art, it's a way of personalizing the experience.

Now we should say the so-called "high art" world is mixed about this trend. On the one hand curators and artists want the young audiences to market their Instagrammable installations.

On the other hand, they want their art to be taken seriously and think selfie-taking in front of the Mona Lisa is not the appropriate art experience.

Add to that the accidents that can happen. One of the Kusama infinity mirror rooms -- called "All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins" -- is off limits to selfie-taking because a past visitor dropped their camera and broke a pumpkin.

And you may recall recently at the 14th Factory pop-up in Lincoln Heights, a woman set off the collapse of a row of pedestals on which were valuable artworks -- that happened when she was trying to take a selfie.

DnA spoke to the executive creative director and co-founder of Refinery 29 and the self-described "godmomma" of 29 Rooms. Her name is Piera Gelardi and she says about the trend, "I think that for a lot of consumers actually taking selfies and expressing themselves through social media is their own personal form of art and expression. And I don't think that there's any form of self-expression that is wrong."

Now, you could say the Mona Lisa was itself the equivalent of a selfie. After all, much great art is portraits of people - commissioned from an artist before the iPhone was invented.

If you can actually get a ticket -- they sell out so quickly -- you find how expensive many of these exhibits are.

29Rooms tickets cost $19 - or buy an $85 "after dark" package - and they sold out within a day. The Happy Place's prices will make you unhappy: $28.50 (or $199 for the VIP package).

If you've missed these, then book to visit the Museum of Selfies, said to be coming to Glendale in January. According to the LA Times, the 8,000-square-feet of museum space will include a faux skyscraper that people can climb for a rooftop selfie, as well as installations examining the culture of narcissism. A ticket is $25.


Photo: Visitors snap a selfie at 29Rooms, one of several new pop-up installations made for snapping self-portraits to share on social media. (Avishay Artsy)

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