In Los Angeles, visitors to the County Museum of Art are being encouraged to take photos of themselves in ‘The Boulder Holder’ pose, with them pretending to lift up Michael Heizer’s sculpture Levitated Mass. Museums are beginning to see selfie opportunities as a way to encourage more visitors and it has spread even to places that used to frown on selfies or had banned the selfie stick.
In some places, redesigns are being planned to encourage self portraits. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has planned an expansions which will open next year and has terraces that are designed in part to encourage visitors to take selfies. Curators are also thinking about how selfie opportunities can be created within exhibitions. Chief content officer Chad Coerver has said that museums would be foolish to not actively consider selfie opportunities as they play “an essential role in terms of word of mouth”.
At the Centre Pompidou in Paris, stickers were stuck to the floor which visitors could follow in order to find the best selfie locations with Jeff Koons’ Hanging Heart art piece. A museum in Los Angeles called The Broad which is currently under construction didn’t think about selfies in its design but a selfie meme has already been created. The founding director Joanne Heyler has said that the selfies outside the building have come about organically- people have been seen in photos outside pressing their finger into their cheek in an effort to mimic the ‘oculus’ part of the building which is indented.
In October, Beyonce and Jay Z posted selfies of them standing with the world famous Mona Lisa painting in Paris’ Louvre. While the Philadelphia Museum of Art sees people taking photos with its Rocky statue and The Scream by Edvard Munch at Oslo’s National Gallery sees people emulating the agast figure in their photos. In addition the Art in Island museum in the Philippines is interactive and built around allowing people to take selfies with art.
LACMA was one of the first museums to embrace the trend of taking selfies with artworks. The installation by Chris Burden named Urban Light was installed in 2008, before Instagram, but people flocked to take selfies on smartphones nonetheless. The Urban Light sculpture is now the museum’s most popular artwork for selfie takers, and there are around 10 times more Instagram photos compared to The Boulder Holder. LACMA has further embraced the selfie trend by most recently creating an interactive social media campaign based around its Faces of America exhibition. Visitors are encouraged to take selfies with the art and the best photos are projected on monitors. LACMA’s social media executive Scott Tennent said that people are less intimidated by interactive exhibitions that encourage self portraits, and they inspire creativity too.
Museums such as the Hammer had forbidden photography inside the galleries, but last year reversed its views to allow for flash-free photography which has given the museum new opportunities. However, not all institutions are happy about the new trends. The Norton Simon museum in Pasadena describes itself as a serene and contemplative experience and does enjoy that visitors capture their experiences, but director of public affairs Leslie Denk says that the museum doesn’t “coordinate any efforts to encourage that”.
Last year, blogger Mar Dixon created MuseumSelfieDay, one day a year designed to encourage people to visit museums and take self portraits. Dixon has said that museums in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Europe picked up on the hashtag, which began trending around the world. “Some even made selfie stations with signs saying ‘this is a good place to take a selfie'” she said.
While some have slated the hashtag, San Fransisco MOMA’s chief content officer Chad Coever has said that anything the museum does digitally is designed to “get a human being in front of a physical artwork”. He goes on to say that if selfies encourage this then they are a good thing for all museums as they play on the idea that you have to be at the museum in order to experience the art and in order to take a selfie in the first place.