News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 9 to 10 a.m.
Local

LA's selfie-ready art spaces cater to our narcissism — but they didn't start the trend




A collage of people in selfie-ready art spaces in LA. Clockwise from top left: Piera Gelardi, executive creative director and co-founder of Refinerary29, in 29Rooms; A Martinez at the Museum of Selfies; Maya Sugarman at The Broad's Yayoi Kusama exhibit; and Leo Duran at the Museum of Ice Cream.
A collage of people in selfie-ready art spaces in LA. Clockwise from top left: Piera Gelardi, executive creative director and co-founder of Refinerary29, in 29Rooms; A Martinez at the Museum of Selfies; Maya Sugarman at The Broad's Yayoi Kusama exhibit; and Leo Duran at the Museum of Ice Cream.
Leo Duran/KPCC

Listen to story

04:52
Download this story 4.0MB

The Museum of Selfies, 29 Rooms, the Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia.

There's a trend of these kind of places in L.A. – artistic destinations designed for people to take pictures in.

Or, to put it a little more bluntly, spaces built for narcissism.

But if you think it's a problem, they didn't start it. High-brow museums did.

"Maybe about 20 years ago, they didn't care too much about the number of people through the gate," says art critic and historian David Pagel. "But museums are now more interested in giving a voice to other people, and I think that the selfie phenomenon is developing out of that."

The Broad's recent blockbuster exhibition of Yayoi Kusama's work, for example, was primed for selfie culture. Her infinity mirror rooms allowed people to see themselves repeated over and over again (totally vain, right?).

But next to those rooms appeared Kusama's earlier works of paintings and collages, and so the museum was able to introduce this venerated artist to a new generation of social media-obsessed people.

There is still a tension about how to do it right, though.

"When the art becomes a background for a selfie, then they've lost that viewer," says Pagel. "But if the selfie is a moment to get people in to really get engaged with the work, then it's working."

And higher attendance numbers can be important to institutions as they prove their worth to donors, their board of directors and the art world at-large.

As for places like the Museum of Selfies and Museum of Ice Cream, they may just be satisfying the outsized demand that people have for more selfie-ready art.

"Anything that spreads the word of art out there is probably a good force," says Pagel. "People cashing in on it is questionable, but art's a pretty robust enterprise that can hold its own against ice cream."