Saatchi Gallery Puts the Selfie Front and Center in New Exhibition

The medium has transformed how the world takes and considers photographs.

Juno Calypso, The Honeymoon Suite (2015). Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.
Juno Calypso, The Honeymoon Suite (2015). Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

“The self-portrait and the selfie are two separate, though at times overlapping, efforts at establishing and embellishing a definition of one’s self,” Getty curator Arpad Kovacs argued during #MuseumSelfieDay last year.

Now, London’s Saatchi Gallery is examining the place of the practice within the artistic tradition of self portraiture in “Selfie to Self-Expression.” Whether or not the selfie can be considered art—or just narcissism—is up for debate, but the medium has transformed how the world takes and considers photographs.

The upcoming show being billed as “the world’s first exhibition exploring the history of the selfie from the Old Masters to the present day.” The gallery will pair the work of Impressionist icons and contemporary greats from Vincent van Gogh to Tracey Emin with a number of popular internet moments.

(The definition of selfie appears to be somewhat loosely applied here—one of the featured images, of actor Benedict Cumberbatch humorously photobombing the band U2 at the 2014 Oscars, is clearly a red carpet shot taken by a professional photographer.)

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a selfie taken by Denmark’s then prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, during the memorial service of Nelson Mandela on 10 December 2013 Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images, courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a selfie taken by Denmark’s prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, during the memorial service of Nelson Mandela on 10 December 2013 Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images, courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

In addition to featuring shots like a selfie taken in 2013 by President Barack Obama with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and historical works like van Gogh’s iconic Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear, the gallery will also commission works for the show from 10 young British photographers.

In advance of the exhibition, the gallery is also launching a #SaatchiSelfie competition, which runs from January 23–March 19. A panel of artists will select a winning submission for inclusion in the show, as well as a Huawei phone.

Tracey Emin, <em>I’ve Got It All</em>. Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

Tracey Emin, I’ve Got It All. Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

“The exhibition,” said Nigel Hurst, the gallery’s chief executive officer, “will present a compelling insight into the history and creative potential of the selfie.”

“Selfie to Self-Expression” is on view at Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, March 31–May 30.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share