The cofounder tells Moneyish about his made-for-Instagram exhibition.
Selfie-sticks aren’t just welcome at these exhibits – they’re encouraged.
The Museum of Selfies is finally opening in a Los Angeles suburb on Easter Sunday, three months later than the pop-up museum was supposed to launch. A rep told Moneyish that the museum was making extra sure that everything was in order after fellow Instagram-friendly museums Happy Place and Candytopia were temporarily shut down for permit problems.
But now the Museum of Selfies is ready for your close-up. The two-month pop-up invites visitors to Snap themselves in Instagrammable rooms that simulate standing atop a skyscraper, floating in outer space, sitting on a familiar pop culture throne – or even posing with oversized snacks for the perfect food portrait. Tickets are $25 at themuseumofselfies.com.
But there’s more than meets the eye here, since the interactive displays are interspersed with pieces exploring the origin of the self-portrait, which evolved from cave paintings to Vincent Van Gogh to Kim Kardashian.
“Selfies are not a new phenomenon – it’s something that people have been doing for 4,000 years,” Tommy Honton, who co-founded the museum with Tair Mamedov, told Moneyish.
Which counters Paris Hilton’s claim in a tweet (and a May W magazine interview) last year that she invented the selfie. “It’s human nature,” said Honton, “just, the technology has changed. So we wondered: Is there a lens that we can look at this through?”
So The Museum of Selfies curates works from modern artists exploring whether or not selfies count as art – such as a portrait of the Mona Lisa holding out a smartphone to snap a pic of herself – as well as a “narcissist” survey tallying the number of deaths from selfie-related accidents, and an exhibit highlighting reports of museum visitors who damage priceless works of art while trying to take the perfect selfie.
The museum is one part meta indictment of being more obsessed with taking a pictures of looking at art, rather than appreciating the art itself. (See: The MoMA “Rain Room” that had people waiting in line for eight hours in 2013, and the Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror” rooms, which both blew up Instagram.) But it also celebrates the art of selfie expression.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people taking selfies at museums – the challenge is when people become obsessed with staring at their screens as opposed to experiencing life. And vandalism is never OK,” he said. “So we’re trying to make sure we have it balanced. Can we make a fun, accessible art exhibit that is fun, but it also has this other layer that educates?”
They’re opening for a limited run for the next two months, but Horton said they are exploring options to take their museum on tour, or to set up permanent shop somewhere.
And this is just the latest monetization of the selfie as art. Current made-for-Instagram exhibits include: The Museum of Ice Cream (tickets $38) currently in L.A. and Miami grants sweet photo opps like a sprinkle pool; Happy Place returning to L.A. on April 26 ($28.50-$35 tickets) which lets you snowglobe yourself in a giant confetti bomb; and Color Factory in San Francisco ($32, but sold out) which lets you artfully lose yourself in 10,000 rainbow ribbons, and even features a “purple selfie room.”
Kim Kardashian’s “Selfish,” a 448-page book of photographs images Kim took of herself (as seen on Insta) between 2006 to 2014, wasn’t quite a bestseller – but it did sell 125,000 copies at last count at around $20 apiece. And one social media post from Beyonce – whose birth announcement on Instagram was the most-liked post of the year with 11.2 million likes and counting – is worth more than $1 million.
Looking at the big picture, selfies have also given the beauty industry a 13% bump in sales (you’ve gotta put your best face forward) according to a Max Factor survey. Plastic surgeons are also seeing a bump in business, with 40% saying their patients stated that looking better in selfies on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook was an incentive for getting surgery. And getting the most flattering angle is a must, so the selfie stick market is expected to hit $174.1 million by 2020.
Honton said this is just the beginning. “I think one of the reasons people respond so well to selfies is that they have this feeling of intimacy and spontaneity. Even though it’s maybe just as staged as any other photo, it feels more natural to see Kim Kardashian posing in a mirror with product nearby, as opposed to a model holding a Coke and saying, ‘Drink this,’” he said. “So I expect we’ll see selfies used more and more as a marketing tool. Selfies connect more personally with the audience.”
This article was originally published in December 2017 and has been updated with the museum opening date.
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