Sep 11, 2014

Museum of New Art Selfie Show - Interview with Jef Bourgeau

Just in the nick of time I learned about the Museum of New Art's open call to artists to submit their best selfie for the upcoming Selfie Show. With only twelve hours to go, I submitted a selfie shot in a bathroom mirror while getting my hair colored recently. I thought the juxtaposition of the timeless beauty of Marilyn against myself in disarray made for an interesting shot. I was notified by Jef Bourgeau that my entry was accepted. The term "selfie" has become part of our lexicon - there's even a new fall show of the same name premiering soon. I wanted to learn more about Jef and the Selfie Show, so I approached him about an interview and he was happy to answer a few questions. I have inserted a few photos from some familiar names in the mobile photo community who are part of the upcoming show.

© Jef Bourgeau
Please tell me a little about yourself.
JB:  I initially wanted to be a writer. I started writing short stories when I was twelve, and illustrating them too. By the time I was thirty, I realized I would never be a very good writer. A hard truth, but one any artist should face if it is true. I would get the stories back from the editors with notes that read: We liked the illustrations and photographs, but the fiction not so well. At thirty, I just locked away the typewriter and quit cold.

After that, I spent the next ten years experimenting with film, photography, prints, painting, installation and performance work. By the time I was forty, I realized I had found a good merging of all those mediums and my writing managed to pull it together as well. I walked into a gallery and had my first show a few weeks later. Within four years, I was participating in exhibitions from NYC to Tokyo. Sometimes it takes a long time to discover that what's wrong as an artist can be reshaped into something very right. So, I was a late bloomer.

© Sarah Jarrett
Sarah Jarrett

Why the Selfie Show?
JB:  Because participating on Facebook exposes me to many new friends (my FB page and the Museum of New Art's together share over 30,000 such new faces in my life). And many of these new friends were posting really interesting self-portraits for their profile images. The media became the message.

© Lanie Heller
Lanie Heller
Where and When is the show?
JB:  The exhibition will open on Sunday September 21st (from 3pm to 7pm) at our museum space in Armada - it is a three story space created from the shell of a very old barn. Around the new building is 60 acres of land and woods, with the St. Clair River running through it. It is the perfect destination to come out and take time to view the portraits, and relax, and even meditate.

© Yannick Brice
Yannick Brice
How were the selections made?
JB:  It was an open call, which means anyone could enter. As for selecting, it was easy. Nearly all were unique - since each of us has a different idea of how we want to be seen. And that doesn't always mean 'flattering' either. There are some that are funny, and some that are dark and sad. But each reveals something unique about the person looking in their own personal mirror, so to speak.

© Diana Nicholette Jeon
Diana Nicholette Jeon
Were both traditional and mobile photos chosen?
JB:  Yes. There was never any doubt that we would include both. Self-portraiture is a very, very old tradition and we didn't want to exclude anyone due to process or medium or mere mechanics. The show itself was inspired by one that I curated a few years ago, titled 'The Painter's Eye'. The premise going in for that exhibition was that perhaps photography has been an important tool for painters since the invention of the camera. I wasn't sure what I would find to prove my theory, but in the end nearly every painter has used photography as an aid in one way or another, especially with portraiture: starting with Courbet to Warhol. And somehow, out of all that I thought more and more about the self-portrait today and the pervasiveness of cameras -- even with our phones, that everyone has one in their pocket. And what are people doing with this medium? Are they creating a plethora of bad photographs, or is it creating a new aesthetic eye in people that never would have exercised such creativity before?

In the end, we only turned down two or three of the submissions. The work submitted was of that high quality.

© Caroline MacMoran
Caroline MacMoran
How will the images be displayed?
JB:  Simply. Printed in two sizes, depending on their resolution. Some are very small, and some are of higher resolution and so allow for larger prints. No frames, just the prints. Naked like that.

© Geri Centonze
Geri Centonze
Will this be an annual event?
JB:  I hadn't planned it, but probably. I'd done a Facebook show a few years ago and that was very successful. This feels to have garnered a similar enthusiasm as well.

What else do you have planned for the Museum of New Art in Armada?
JB:  We have three sites. The globally renowned Beijing artists, the Gao Brothers, will be opening in our Detroit space in a week (September 12). Parisienne photographer, Elene Usdin will be opening that same weekend at our Museum of Photography in Troy. After that we will be hosting an installation in October by French sculptor Bernar Venet. And then a Detroit artist, Adnan Charara at the Armada space. And then Annegien van Doorn from the Netherlands after that. And then famous photographer Erwin Olaf over the holidays. If people are interested, they can go to our website.

© Dan Stone
Dan Stone
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JB:  The Museum of New Art (MONA) was founded in 1996 by me as an artist's project - in effect, to create this fictional museum in a real space (a walk-in closet). From there it has grown to three sites ranging over three counties in Southeastern Michigan. But, since the start, it has always been volunteer and artist run. No one gets a salary and we literally have no funding. I make this point only to show that a lot can be done with nothing, and that sometimes when an artist goes wrong in his career it forces a direction to something right and grander than he ever expected.


  1. The MONA web site did not have an option to sign up for email communication or newsletter or feature any social media widgets like Instagram, Pinterst, G+ or YouTube (at least the mobile platform).

    Nice interview. Wish I had known about the Selfie show....

  2. Thanks Tracy - I literally found out about it 12 hours before the deadline. There is a Facebook Page. I'll add it to the list at the bottom of the article.

  3. Well that will work for those following on FB - still surprised the web site and organization is not collecting emails or sending news letters etc - I found Jef on Google+ - will check to see if they have an RSS feed-thanks!

  4. Yes, that would be a great way to get updates. Not everyone is on FB (until recently I wasn't)

  5. Wonderful interview Geri! Thank you for including my piece. Very honoured, congratulations all!

  6. You're welcome Lanie - I was happy to see your selfie there!

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