Self-portraits down the ages, from Rembrandt to Kim Kardashian the selfie queen, on show
New exhibition traces evolution of self-portrait as an artistic genre, and draws parallel with spread and popularity of smartphones
Rembrandt, Kim Kardashian and Andy Warhol make unlikely bedfellows at a photographic exhibition opening in London this week of the history of the selfie – from the Old Masters to the current day.
“From Selfie to Self-Expression” at London’s Saatchi Gallery celebrates “the creative potential of the selfie,” says Nigel Hurst, the gallery’s chief executive.
He says selfies are the epitome of the digital age and the show is billed as the first of its kind.
The exhibition examines how self-portraiture in painting evolved as mirrors gave an increasingly life-like image, particularly after the invention of silver-glassed mirrors in the early 19th century.
It draws a parallel with the growing sophistication and popularity of smartphones, setting out to “celebrate the truly creative potential of a form of expression often derided for its inanity”.
Works by the likes of Renoir, Cezanne and Monet are projected on TV screens with smartphones attached to allow visitors to “like” them as if on social media.
There is also a stoic-looking Rembrandt and a Vincent Van Gogh in which the artist strikes a severe pose while surrounded by his signature blue swirls.
Two Picasso “selfies” show the artistic journey the Spaniard went through in the space of a single year: the first more rounded, the second more angular.
Joseph Ducreux, an 18th century French artist, cheekily portrayed himself smiling widely and pointing a finger right at the viewer.
But the bulk of the exhibition is made up of photographs, many taken by acclaimed contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, as well as thousands of amateur shots – the modern-day “selfie”.
“The good thing about selfies is that it’s quite democratic, anyone can have a go,” says 27-year-old Juno Calypso, one of the emerging artists whose works are also exhibited at the gallery.
Among the selfies as they are best known – instant images to share an experience – there is a man taking one while running away from a charging bull and a diver snapping himself in front of a shark.
US television presenter Ellen DeGeneres’ record-breaking Oscar selfie, which garnered over 770,000 retweets in half an hour, can be admired again.
Reality television star Kardashian, who in 2015 released a book of her selfies entitled Selfish and is seen as a pioneer in the genre, is also featured.
Visitors should not come armed with preconceptions, Hurst said, arguing: “These are all images of our time that have had a huge influence on where we are now in terms of what we think of as portraiture.”