Always wanted a selfie with the Madonna with the Long Neck? Forget it, the Uffizi gallery banned the selfie stick last October. A cosy little self-portrait with Holbein’s Ambassadors instead? Too late, the National Gallery in London, where it hangs, proscribed the stick this week. Everywhere, with the signal exception of the Far East, the age of electronic narcissism is under attack from the repositories of permanence — the museum and the gallery. It would have been particularly fitting to see narcissism assimilated by the museum and made history — the selfie as an exhibit, a necessary step in artistic evolution, like the prehistoric hand stencils in the Lascaux cave. However, it’s playing out as a conflict: Narcissus waves his magic wand, and exasperated, the archive gives him the bum’s rush.
The National Gallery is the latest public institution to ban the selfie stick, the mechanical extension of the index finger which Time counted among the 25 most important inventions of 2014. Notable destinations where the selfie stick must be left at the door include Versailles, the Smithsonian, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, and the Colosseum in Rome.
These bans claim to be measures for the safety of both artworks and the admiring public. The authorities at the Colosseum have spoken darkly about forests of selfie sticks being waggled about. Curiously, they say nothing about those dangerous-looking telescopic radio antennas that Far Eastern tour guides wield to marshal their flocks. Whether for practical or judgemental reasons, the days of the museum selfie are numbered. But if you hurry, you can still click yourself with the Mona Lisa. The Louvre, where she lives, is yet to ban selfie sticks, and it’s just too good to last.