The art of the selfie is a big draw at many museums
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - In one photo, a tourist in a baseball cap stands heroically, raising a 340-ton boulder above his head. In another, a thin woman, flat on her back with legs in the air, balances the rock on her feet.
“The Boulder Holder” is a selfie that museum visitors take with a giant rock that is also a piece of art. It is called “Levitated Mass” and it is located at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California (LACMA). The photo is so popular that one count of pictures of the artwork on Instagram reached 175,000 people in a week.
The museum selfie is having a moment. Museums around the globe are creating even more selfie opportunities as a way to attract visitors, especially young people.
Some museums are even designing architecture that encourages people to take pictures of themselves.
Selfie-Friendly Museum Moments
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is building decks with views. The change is partly to encourage visitors to take selfies. The museum’s curators are also discussing ways to include selfie-friendly moments in exhibitions.
“It’d be foolish for museums not to actively consider this," Chad Coerver, who works at the San Francisco museum, said. He added that selfies help spread buzz about a museum through word of mouth. “We are definitely looking at what those iconic selfie moments are going to be.”
With so much to look at, art museums are natural places for the selfie. Just ask Beyonce and Jay Z. In October they famously posted selfies with “The Mona Lisa” at the Louvre museum in Paris.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has two famous selfie spots, both from the movie "Rocky." One is the statue of Rocky the boxer, and the other is to do the famous run up the museum's stone steps holding fists in the air just like he did in the movie.
The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, has a painting called "The Scream." The Internet is full of people with horrified expressions like the person in the painting.
There is even an interactive art museum in the Philippines called Art in Island. It opened in December dedicated to taking selfies with artworks.
“The upside is that people share their experiences, word spreads, more people come, young people can relate,” said Ann Philbin. She is in charge of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The downside is that people do not often have deep or meaningful experiences with the art, she said. “That’s what we’re giving up.”
Digital Self Expression
The selfie comes out of a generation that thrives on self-expression. It could also be a response to the digital world, where experiences happen with technology instead of in-person. The selfie screams: “I was actually here!”
Kate Flint is an art history professor at the University of Southern California. She said that social media puts a huge value on sharing experiences instantly. We do this with a whole network of people who will fall somewhere between jealousy and admiration.
LACMA was among the first of the big museums to take advantage of the selfie, back in 2008. The artwork “Urban Light” is set up like a forest of lampposts right outside the museum. It went up before Instagram existed. Almost immediately it attracted people who wanted to take pictures of themselves in the forest on their cellphones. "Urban Light" is now the favorite spot at the museum for selfies.
Favorite Selfie Snaps
LACMA has launched a new social media campaign. “Faces of America” is an exhibit that asks visitors to take selfies with artworks. The photos are then projected back to visitors on screens.
Everyday LACMA looks for selfies to re-post, said Scott Tennent who runs the museum’s social media. He said that it makes people feel more comfortable with museums and inspires creativity.
Like many museums, the Hammer museum did not used to allow people to take photos in its galleries. Then last February it reversed the rule to allow flash-free photography.
The Hammer’s spinning chairs in its main courtyard have become the unexpected selfie standout. Since they were installed in February, hundreds of visitors a week have played on them, twirling on the chairs and snapping pictures.
Once those in charge of the museum saw what was happening, they created a hashtag called "spunday." Now every Sunday they post their favorite pictures of visitors in the chairs.