More mu­se­ums world­wide are cre­at­ing selfie-friendly op­por­tu­ni­ties in hopes of draw­ing young vis­i­tors

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Deb­o­rah Vankin

In one photo, a tourist in a base­ball cap stands hero­ically, face scrunched with ef­fort, rais­ing a 340-ton boul­der above his head. In another, a spindly yogi, f lat on her back and legs in the air, bal­ances the rock on her feet.

“The Boul­der Holder” pose, a selfie that mu­seum-go­ers take with artist Michael Heizer’s “Le­vi­tated Mass” sculp­ture at the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art, is so pop­u­lar that by one es­ti­mate, Instagram pho­tos of the art­work us­ing the #lacma hash­tag po­ten­tially reach 175,000 peo­ple a week.

The mu­seum selfie is hav­ing a mo­ment. In­sti­tu­tions around the globe — even some that once frowned on pho­tog­ra­phy or that have banned the selfie stick — are cre­at­ing even more selfie op­por­tu­ni­ties, sans stick, as a way to at­tract vis­i­tors, es­pe­cially mil- lenni­als.

Some mu­se­ums are even de­sign­ing ar­chi­tec­ture that en­cour­ages the phe­nom­e­non.

At the San Fran­cisco Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, an ex­pan­sion set to open next year in­cludes ter­races with views partly de­signed to en­cour­age self­ies. The mu­seum’s cu­ra­tors are also dis­cussing ways to in­cor­po­rate selfie-friendly mo­ments into ex­hi­bi­tions.

“It’d be fool­ish for mu­se­ums not to ac­tively con­sider this. It plays such an es­sen­tial role in terms of word of mouth,” said the mu­seum’s chief con­tent of­fi­cer Chad Co­erver. “We are def­i­nitely look­ing at what those iconic selfie mo­ments are go­ing to be at the new SF MOMA.”

Dur­ing its re­cent Jeff Koons ret­ro­spec­tive, the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou in Paris placed stick­ers on the f loor guid­ing vis­i­tors to the best selfie spots

with the artist’s “Hang­ing Heart.”

The Broad mu­seum, which will open in down­town Los An­ge­les in Septem­ber, didn’t con­sider self­ies when con­fig­ur­ing its ar­chi­tec­ture, found­ing di­rec­tor Joanne Heyler said. None­the­less, a selfie meme as­so­ci­ated with the Grand Av­enue build­ing is al­ready emerg­ing.

“The best selfie spots seem to come about or­gan­i­cally,” Heyler said. “We’ve re­cently seen pic­tures of peo­ple tak­ing self­ies out­side the build­ing and mim­ick­ing the ‘ocu­lus’ — a place where the veil of our build­ing in­dents into the mu­seum.”

The pose: mak­ing a fake dim­ple by press­ing a fin­ger into your cheek.

With their vis­ual fo­cus, art mu­se­ums are nat­u­ral places for the trend to flour­ish. Just ask Bey­oncé and Jay Z, who in Oc­to­ber fa­mously posted self­ies with the “Mona Lisa” at the Lou­vre in Paris.

The Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art’s selfie spots are its “Rocky” statue and the in­spir­ing run up its stone steps, fists over­head. The Na­tional Gallery in Oslo has Ed­vard Munch’s “The Scream,” glut­ting the In­ter­net with ag­o­nized self­ies.

There’s even an in­ter­ac­tive art mu­seum in the Philip­pines, Art in Is­land, that 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, di­rec­tor of the Ham­mer Mu­seum in West Los An­ge­les. The down­side: They don’t as of­ten have in­ti­mate or con­tem­pla­tive ex­pe­ri­ences with the art, she said. “That’s what we’re giv­ing up.”

Though the selfie speaks to a cul­ture that val­ues unique­ness and self-ex­pres­sion, it could also be a re­ac­tion to the dig­i­tal world, where ex­pe­ri­ences are vir­tual rather than tan­gi­ble. The selfie screams: “I was ac­tu­ally here!”

“So­cial me­dia put a huge pre­mium on the in­stant shar­ing of ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Kate Flint, a USC art his­tory pro­fes­sor. “And not just with im­me­di­ate fam­ily and friends, but with a whole net­work of peo­ple who, it’s im­plic­itly as­sumed, will be some­where be­tween en­vi­ous and ad­mir­ing that you’ve ac­tu­ally made it into the Lou­vre or the Uf­fizi.”

Among ma­jor mu­se­ums, LACMA was among the first to em­brace the selfie trend. Its “Ur­ban Light” in­stal­la­tion by Chris Bur­den went up in the pre-Instagram year of 2008, and al­most im­me­di­ately be­gan at­tract­ing cell­phone-wield­ing self-por­traitists.

The sculp­ture is now the mu­seum’s crowd fa­vorite for self­ies, spawn­ing nearly 10 times the pho­tos on Instagram com­pared with Heizer’s rock star.

In its most in­ter­ac­tive so­cial me­dia cam­paign to date, LACMA’s por­trait ex­hi­bi­tion “Faces of America” asks vis­i­tors to take self­ies with art­works, then projects se­lected im­ages back to vis­i­tors on mon­i­tors.

Ev­ery day LACMA looks for self­ies to re-post, said Scott Ten­nent, who over­sees the mu­seum’s so­cial me­dia. “It helps lower the in­tim­i­da­tion fac­tor that so many mu­se­ums have to wres­tle with, and it in­spires cre­ativ­ity.”

Like many mu­se­ums, the Ham­mer once barred pic­ture-tak­ing in its gal­leries. Then in Fe­bru­ary last year it re­versed the pol­icy to al­low flash-free pho­tog­ra­phy.

“We saw it as a ne­ces­sity and also as an op­por­tu­nity,” Philbin said. “In the last five years, mu­se­ums have loos­ened up around this is­sue. Peo­ple want to pho­to­graph things to re­mem­ber them. Cam­eras are an ex­ten­sion of our bod­ies at this point.”

The Ham­mer’s spin­ning chairs in its main court­yard — which in­vite vis­i­tors to take a whirl — have or­gan­i­cally be­come the un­ex­pected selfie stand­out. Since they were in­stalled in Fe­bru­ary as part of “Provo­ca­tions: The Ar­chi­tec­ture and Design of Heather­wick Stu­dio,” hun­dreds of vis­i­tors a week have un­leashed their in­ner child, twirling on the chairs and doc­u­ment­ing it.

“Once we no­ticed it, we cre­ated a hash­tag, #spun­day,” Philbin said. “Now ev­ery Sun­day we post our fa­vorite pic­tures in one of the Spun chairs.”

At the Getty Mu­seum in Brent­wood, cu­ra­tors last month re­ar­ranged the or­na­men­tal mir­rors in the South Pav­il­ion dec­o­ra­tive arts gal­leries to make mir­ror self­ies eas­ier to achieve. In Jan­uary, the Getty launched #MusePose, ask­ing vis­i­tors to im­i­tate spe­cific art­works each month and share their self­ies on Instagram. Last week alone, #MusePose ap­peared 618,000 times in users’ Instagram streams.

“It’s about ob­serv­ing what vis­i­tors are al­ready en­joy­ing, notic­ing what they’re notic­ing, and fa­cil­i­tat­ing that — show­ing them it’s not this stuffy quiet place you can’t have fun in,” dig­i­tal en­gage­ment man­ager An­nelisa Stephan said.

Not ev­ery­one, how­ever — like the Nor­ton Si­mon Mu­seum in Pasadena — is chas­ing the selfie op.

“We see other mu­se­ums do that, but that’s not the Nor­ton Si­mon style,” said Les­lie Denk, di­rec­tor of pub­lic af­fairs. “It’s a serene con­tem­pla­tive ex­pe­ri­ence here, es­pe­cially in our sculp­ture gar­den. We cer­tainly en­joy that vis­i­tors take the time to cap­ture and share their ex­pe­ri­ences, but we don’t co­or­di­nate any ef­forts to en­cour­age that.”

At a Brooklyn ex­hi­bi­tion last year, a sculp­ture by artist Kara Walker de­pict­ing an African Amer­i­can “mammy” as a Egyp­tian sphinx led to graphic self­ies of vis­i­tors seem­ingly touch­ing var­i­ous nude body parts.

“It was re­ally dis­turb­ing and stupid and dis­tracted from the mean­ing of the piece,” said Art in America cor­re­spond­ing edi­tor Michael Dun­can. “Mu­se­ums don’t need to be Dis­ney­land. They need to be places where you ex­pe­ri­ence art, and self­ies get in the way.”

Dun­can’s view was at odds with Bri­tish blog­ger Mar Dixon, who last year launched @Mu­se­umSelfie Day.

“It just went crazy, the hash­tag started trending world­wide,” Dixon said, adding that mu­se­ums in Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Rus­sia, Ger­many and be­yond picked up on her cam­paign. “Some even made selfie sta­tions with signs say­ing, ‘This is a good place to take a selfie.’”

The art web­site Hyper­al­ler­gic, how­ever, wrote that the sec­ond Mu­seum Selfie Day on Jan. 20 this year “will for­ever be re­mem­bered as a plague on our so­cial me­dia feeds.” The site called Dixon “the of­fi­cial ring­leader of this vast crim­i­nal en­ter­prise.”

But that “crim­i­nal en­ter­prise” at least got peo­ple into mu­se­ums, SF MOMA’s Co­erver said.

“We fun­da­men­tally be­lieve that ev­ery­thing we do dig­i­tally is still de­signed to get a hu­man be­ing in front of a phys­i­cal art­work,” Co­erver said. “If self­ies en­cour­age that to hap­pen, that’s a good thing for mu­se­ums. It re­in­forces this idea that you have to be there.”

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

MON­ICA CARTER OF CHICAGO takes a selfie in front of the “Le­vi­tated Mass” boul­der sculp­ture at the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art in Los An­ge­les, a fa­vorite site among many vis­i­tors for self-por­traits.

Mon­ica Carter

CARTER’S selfie in front of the out­door 340-ton boul­der in­stal­la­tion by Michael Heizer.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

MAR­JORIE MABINI, left, takes a photo with her niece Jay­dah Mabini, and son Jaren, 1, in front of LACMA’s “Ur­ban Light” in­stal­la­tion.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

PE­DRO CADIMA of Lis­bon takes a photo of him­self and his wife, Eva, in front of the Broad mu­seum’s dim­ple-like “ocu­lus” win­dow in down­town Los An­ge­les.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

Kate­lyn Haber

KATE­LYN HABER of Thou­sand Oaks takes a photo of her­self and Ruby Lanet of Venice in the spin­ning chairs at the Ham­mer Mu­seum.


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