Exhibit proves that ‘selfies’ are not exactly a new thing

The ‘selfie’ trend of the day has revolutionized how photography is consumed. However, the gap between modern-day self-portraits and those spanning more than 150 years ago, may not be so broad.

St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts is presenting the exhibition, ‘This is Not a Selfie: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection,’ through Nov. 25. (Brian Fernandes)

St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is featuring an exhibit that sheds light on how artists have embraced self-portraits long before smartphones and social media became a thing.

The MFA is hosting the “This is Not a Selfie: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection” through Nov. 25.

The exhibition, which came from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), features more than 80 photographs created by 66 artists.

Three themes — performance, identity and reflection — are the focal point of the exhibit, showing various techniques artists have used to create their images.

The gallery is showcasing self-portraiture dating as far back as the 19th century.

The oldest piece in the exhibit, by French artist Alphonse-Louis Poitevin, is from 1853.

“People always want to express themselves in creative ways,” said Robin O’ Dell, curator of photographic collection at St. Pete MFA. “This exhibition does a good job of showing the breadth and depth of how people do that.”

Artist Cindy Sherman poses for the camera in this 1977 portrait. (Courtesy of The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection)

While there are self-portraits taken by the artists themselves, there are others in which artists pose for another photographer.

In each image, however, the artist has an agenda – whether it is to entertain or to address social issues, such as family, gender, race or politics.

In his 1988 portrait, Robert Mapplethorpe explores the theme of identity, as he faces the camera holding in hand a cane with a skull on top of it. The image, taken several months before his passing, was his way of addressing his own mortality.

The reflection theme can be seen through a more modern image, 2004’s “Mirror Ball” by Anne Collier. In this portrait, Collier uses a disco ball to reflect parts of her fingers, clothes and hair around one of her eyes – the window into the soul.

Creating connections through art
“This is Not a Selfie” sets out to help newer generations resonate with artwork of past generations and to understand its importance.

In this 2004 piece entitled ‘Mirror Ball,’ Anne Collier’s eye becomes the focal point of a disco ball. (Courtesy of The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection)

“One of the things that’s wonderful about this show is it’s incredibly accessible and relatable,” said Kristen Shepherd, executive director of St. Pete MFA. “The way we use pixilation and all the different things that artists have done through time, we’re all doing too. We’re all connected in that way.”

Three ‘selfie stations’ allow visitors to play an interactive role. A turquoise-colored carpet signals each station’s location.

The fun house mirror station is inspired by a 1955 portrait by Imogen Cunningham, where she poses with her granddaughters. Like the image, the mirrors distort the size and shape of whoever stands before it.

The 9-foot disco ball station reflects its subjects in glossy and fragmented pieces. This station was inspired by Anne Collier’s portrait.

This 2009 portrait shows duplicates of Lisa Anne Auerbach in Nottingham Forest, as she tries to recapture the story of Robin Hood. Here Auerbach, known for her political messages, makes a statement on her concerns regarding wealth distribution and health care. (Courtesy of The Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection)

Then, there is the Jonathan Borofsky-inspired station which has three projections on a bare wall. At this station, subjects can stand with their backs to a projection so it appears to be tattooed on their bodies, such as in Borofsky’s 1980 art piece.

Visitors can post their ‘selfies’ onto Instagram with the hashtag #notaselfieMFA. This hashtag will allow their photos to be uploaded onto an image board at St. Pete MFA for the public to view.

“We want people to be engaged with art,” O’ Dell said. “They’re so inundated with imagery now, that it’s good to see how professional artists use their creativity to express personal things.”

The MFA is the only stop the exhibition will be making on the East Coast of the country. It previously has been showcased at the San Jose Museum of Art and the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery, both in California.

This is Not a Selfie: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection
Where: St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg
When: The exhibit will be on display daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Thursday, when it is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, when hours are noon to 5 p.m. The exhibit runs through Nov. 25.
Cost: $20 for adults; $15 for those 65 and older, Florida educators, college students and military officers; $10 for students age 7 and older, and free for those younger. Admission is $5 after 5 p.m., on Thursdays.
Details: The exhibition showcases more than 80 self-portraits spanning a period of 150 years.
Additional information: The museum has a café, open Tuesdays through Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Valet parking is available at the entrance; there is metered parking on the street.
Info: Call (727) 896-2667, or visit MFAstpete.org.

Published September 12, 2018

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