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Are selfies art? New Saatchi exhibition says they are

Are selfies art? New Saatchi exhibition says they are
London’s Saatchi Gallery has launched a new exhibition on the evolution of the ‘selfie’ from the Old Masters in the 16th century to contemporary times.

The ‘Selfie to Self-expression’ exhibition explores how selfies have been used as a mode of self-expression throughout history, from the grand masters like Rembrandt to contemporary celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and David Beckham.


Gallery chief executive Nigel Hurst, who conceived the idea for the show, said: “In the 16th century, it was only the artists who had the skills, materials and tools to create self-portraits.

“Now we all have that wherewithal through our smartphones,” he said, according to the Guardian.

Visitors start their journey through the exhibition with some of the best self-portraits by the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh and Munch.

As they stroll through the selfies, they are given the chance to ‘like’ them, just as people do on social media.

Hurst said this allows people to finally get to say whether they like the works or not, defying the cannon of ‘genius’ art.

“These are artists who I guess when we’re at school we’re not asked whether we like them or not – they are held up as people of genius.

“It’s not to be taken too seriously, but it is nice to give people the opportunity to decide, for example, ‘Rembrandt is not my cup of tea, but Picasso is.’”

The show features 10 contemporary selfies shortlisted from 14,000 entered to the #Saatchiselfie competition.


Dawn Woolley won the top prize for her entry, ‘The Substitute’ (Holiday).

The artist claims the picture seeks to undermine the objectification of the female body, but in a subtle way.

“I create a photographic copy of myself and place it in the real world instead of me,” Woolley said, according to the International Business Times.

“By creating artwork that establishes me as an object it could be argued that I produce photographs that reinforce stereotypical images of the female body, but with apparent exhibitionism I create a substitute that renders my real body invisible.”


For her work, Woolley has won a trip with a Leica Photography Ambassador to work on an international photo shoot. 

The other 14,000 entries will be showcased at the exhibition, which occupies two floors and 10 rooms at the gallery, on a digital wall.

Other selfies include the memorable one taken by former Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt with former US President Barack Obama and ex-UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Hurst claims the exhibition’s intent is to engage a wider audience in contemporary art and make galleries more appealing to the public.


“Art galleries can still be pretty intimidating places, and our role is really simple – it is to bring contemporary art and how visual imagery is now being made to as wide an audience as possible.

“Something like a selfie is a very good entry point,” the gallery’s chief executive said, according to the Guardian.

The show ends with the installation of Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko featuring 12 surveillance cameras.

The scope of the installation is to raise awareness of the downside effects of living in a selfie-driven world.

“Selfies are not an option, it’s something that is opening out our identity for good but mostly for bad, shaping up a controlling society,” said Lozano-Hemmer, Reuters reports.

“The problem is not that we don’t have privacy anymore.”