The self-expressive, millennial-pioneered photographic art form — in other words, the #selfie — is having a moment at London’s Saatchi Gallery, the self-reported number 1 museum in the world for social media followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Presented by Chinese phone manufacturer Huawei, Saatchi Gallery’s ongoing “From Selfie to Self-Expression” exhibition traces the selfie’s evolution in art history from brilliantly rendered 16th century self-portraits to spontaneous selfie portraits by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Tom Cruise. The brainchild of gallery chief executive Nigel Hurst, the world’s first selfie-focused exhibition showcases the boundlessly creative potential of the seemingly universal smartphone.
While in London on Saturday, I had a chance to wander through the highly interactive exhibition with a friend on the heels of a two week trip to Europe, where we averaged about three galleries a day. For its carefully considered yet lighthearted and relatable content, the Saatchi-Huawei exhibition would prove itself to be one of our favorite shows.
Opening with illuminated screens showing slideshows of some of the world’s most recognizable self-portraits by artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Munch, Courbet, Schiele and Kahlo, the show invites visitors to double tap the self-portraits on accompanying Huawei smartphones. A clever homage to Instagram, this room sets the whimsical and fascinating tone which flows throughout the entire show.
The exhibition then continues in the twentieth century, in one of Saatchi’s iconically fresh white rooms where self-portraits of major contemporary art world personalities such as Chuck Close and Tracy Emin are projected onto light screens.
Upstairs, two rooms full of interactive, digital and user-generated content invite museum and selfie-goers to immersive art experiences — tasteful Instagram opportunities — as well as a chance to experience life-size filter on three enlarged phone screens.
Likewise, the interactive installations coincide with cleanly framed shots of popular internet moments, such as Obama’s selfie with the Prime Minister of Denmark and former PM David Cameron during Nelson Mandela’s funeral service or Ellen Degeneres’ legendary, star-studded Oscars selfie.
As part of Huawei’s push to expand its presence in the U.K., 10 young British photographers were also commissioned to create works using Huawei’s newest dual lens smartphone. These photographers were selected by a panel comprised of artists such as Tracey Emin and Juergen Teller in March after tens of thousands of entries poured in from all over the world for the #SaatchiSelfie competition, which encouraged people to submit their best selfie for a chance to have their work featured in one of London’s most popular museums.
Following the success of the #SaatchiSelfie competition, the #SelfExpression competition was launched on June 10th — inviting artists, photographers and individuals to capture and submit photographs of the world around them, rather than photos of themselves. The 10 winners of the #SelfExpression competition will have their work exhibited at Saatchi Gallery and will also receive Huawei’s newest P10 smartphone.
In all, Huawei’s partnership with Saatchi Gallery exhibition signifies far more than genius branding. Together, the world’s third largest smartphone brand and one of the world’s hippest museums have created an authentic experience for museum-goers centered around a familiar source of self-expression that has come to play a significant role in our daily lives.
Through leveraging the selfie as an artistic medium, the exhibition communicates a powerful message that while the selfie might be a self-obsessive pursuit at times, it also is an incredibly self-expressive medium where we can capture ourselves during moments we would like to remember.
“From Selfie to Self-Expression” is on at Saatchi Gallery until July 23rd. For more information about the exhibition, check out the museum’s website.