Frida Kahlo's self portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is perhaps the most beguiling of the 20th century. It rustles with symbolism, bringing together Aztec, Catholic, folk and pagan imagery. The artist constructs a mysterious identity out of symbols and omens. This painting is a quest for selfhood; a method for understanding the world.
On an opposite wall hangs a Kim Kardashian Instagram post. The celebrity, ironically behind a Japanese dressing screen, stands in a trifling white swimming costume, taking a picture of herself, which she calls #NoFilter.
One is a timeless monument to truth, the other a disposable flake of artifice. So what do these images have in common? Well, both are self-representations. And both are given equal weight at the Saatchi Gallery's latest exhibition, From Selfie to Self-Expression. The gallery calls it 'the world's first exhibition exploring the history of the selfie from old masters to the present day'. Cue a London-wide sigh. But, actually, there's plenty to admire.
Rembrandt Self Portrait © Saatchi Gallery
This exhibition is bursting at the seams with art that spans 500 years. We have Velázquez, Rembrandt, Picasso and Basquiat – their self-portraits blown up and displayed on glowing screens, complete with 'Like' buttons.
And what exhibition on self-portraiture would be complete without the work of Rembrandt. He's master of the medium – depicting himself at least 90 times. Each work is majestic, thick with emotion, knowledge and humanity. Even on these wall-mounted screens and Instagram graphics, these self-portraits sing.
We have portraits by photographer Nan Goldin, documenting her gritty, bohemian life in downtown NYC. A devout chronicler of love in an era of uncertain sexuality, intoxication and violent death, Goldin produces images that rasp with unfettered female desire. We have Tracey Emin, laying money like eggs. Gavin Turk poses as a life-sized Sid Vicious waxwork, brandishing a gun inside his vitrine. Winston Churchill capturing himself with a cigar.
Cindy Sherman © Saatchi Gallery
But then there's the filler. Harry Styles with his acolytes, Ellen DeGeneres' Oscars selfie, blurry images from soap stars. We all know what these look like. We have the Daily Fail for that. Why so many of them? The sponsorship is intrusive, the #SaatchiSelfie campaign, in which you can have your on selfie displayed on the walls, is cynical. There's too no theory, no argument. All play no work.
But plenty of fun, nonetheless.
|What||From Selfie to Self-Expression, Saatchi|
Duke of York's HQ, King's Road, London, SW3 4RY | MAP
|Nearest tube||Sloane Square (underground)|
31 Mar 17 – 30 May 17, Ten til 6 daily
|Website||Click here for more information|