Museums gain visibility through #MuseumSelfie day

From the self-portrait to the selfie in art

Iconic self-portrait

In 1500, German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer painted himself in a way that recalls representations of Christ. His stern eyes stare right at the viewer of the painting. Without any frills, the artist portrayed himself as a modest creator. Such a self-portrait was unlike anything else at the time.

From the self-portrait to the selfie in art

Elegance is in the details

Anton van Dyck (1599-1641) was 20 years old when he did this self-portrait. He went to great lengths to give himself a dignified and elegant appearance. For art historians, self-portraits also describe the times: Van Dyck, who became the court painter of King Charles I in England in 1632, is more like a nobleman than a normal citizen. He was an outstanding portraitist - including of himself.

From the self-portrait to the selfie in art

Realistic gaze

Rembrandt (1606 -1669) portrayed himself more often than any other artist before him. His self-portraits show him at various ages and in different roles, whether painting at the easel or like an Apostle. Through his self-portraits, he also studied how to reproduce the effects of aging. Like all of his works, these self-portraits were commissioned paintings and were very popular among buyers.

From the self-portrait to the selfie in art

Romantic bright eyes

Caspar David Friedrich (1774 - 1840) was not a portraitist. He was rather renowned for his romantic landscapes depicting the changing seasons. He therefore produced very few self-portraits but, whenever he did, he paid great attention to details. His expressive gaze, his sandy wavy hair, his attitude: Friedrich depicted himself as a self-confident man.

From the self-portrait to the selfie in art

That look is a brand

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) produced many famous self-portraits. Unlike Rembrandt, the Pop artist did not aim to provide a realistic representation of himself. Warhol slips into roles to deceive the viewer. There is nevertheless a similarity with Rembrandt: Just like the Baroque artist from Antwerp, the self-portraits were part of Warhol's brand.

From the self-portrait to the selfie in art

Distorted soul

The self-portraits of the British artist Francis Bacon (1909 -1992) appear painfully distorted. Bacon did his first self-portrait in 1956. He was inspired by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. He does not look very cheerful in these paintings. There is hardly anything human left on his self-portraits - they are rather monstrous, grotesque faces.

From the self-portrait to the selfie in art

The feminist perspective

Cindy Sherman has one single artistic motif: herself. She poses in different roles - whether as Marilyn Monroe, a clown, a hermaphrodite or a sex victim. Through these staged self-portrayals, she repeatedly questions the stereotypes in our society's depictions of women.

From the self-portrait to the selfie in art

Irony as a concept

The provocative German Martin Kippenberger (1953 - 1997) became a strongly acclaimed artist in the 1980s. In his self-portraits, he presented himself in varied ways, from a beaten-up teenager to a pudgy lump of flesh. By hiding his face on these self-portraits, Kippenberger displayed the limits of painting.

From the self-portrait to the selfie in art

The political selfie

Thanks to his active presence on social media, Ai Weiwei has become an icon of the selfie. The Chinese dissident, who currently lives in Berlin, documents decisive moments of his life with his smartphone. He sends strong political messages with these self-portraits, such as this one, when the Chinese government returned his passport.

On January 17, museums around the world are embracing the selfie as the #MuseumSelfie trend takes over social media. Institutions are hoping to benefit from the added publicity.

Years ago, concerns about the damage to priceless works of art led museums to forbid visitors from taking photographs. While most still have a ban in place on using cameras with flash, the world's turn toward documenting every experience digitally has made many museums ease the rules about snapping pictures once inside. After all, these institutions can benefit from the added publicity brought to them by visitors posting on Instagram and other social media platforms.

Drawing on that documentary trend, Museum Selfie Day was initiated five years ago by Mar Dixon, who runs the Culture Themes website. The awareness-raising scheme has people the world over posting selfies on January 17 under the hashtag #MuseumSelfie to show their affection for a museum.

What that selfie should look like is entirely up to the photographer; it can be a shot of a museum ticket stub, include artworks or dinosaur bones or shiny automobiles in the background, or show a person standing outside the museum's entrance. The only caveat is to leave the selfie stick at home, as many museums have banned the device out of fear that they will disturb other visitors or might damage works of art.

Museums and historical societies the world over have joined in on the campaign in 2018 – from England's Historic Royal Palaces to the Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore in Russia to the Foundation for Prussian Castles and Gardens, Berlin-Brandenburg. Museums in Athens are taking part for the first time this year, with the Benaki Museum there setting up specially designated "selfie spots" inside.

The trend, initially embraced by celebrities including Beyonce and Jay-Z, has been highly beneficial for the museums taking part, with some noting a substantial uptick in visitors. In Bathurst, Australia, museums manager Janelle Middleton has already told theWestern Advocate newspaper that she expected the number of visitors to five of the city's cultural institutions to double in 2018 as compared to last year on the same day.

While the initiative is voluntary, with nearly 2.5 million selfies uploaded to social media every day, a good museum selfie will likely not be hard to come by.

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