The Muse's Gaze: SELENE KITT

Updated: Oct 24

INTERVIEW BY The PETIT MORT Team


We, at Petit Mort, have the pleasure of introducing you to Selene Kitt, this season’s cover star. Selene is an American model, companion, creative, art enthusiast, and meme connoisseur. She lives in New York and in the hearts of many men (and women). Selene met the Petit Mort creative team at the TWA hotel to discuss travel, erotic labor, art, education, appropriation and all that exists intersects between those lines.


PETIT MORT (PENELOPE DARIO)

So, Selene. Thank you so much for making time to speak to us today. Let’s start with a question on traveling, as you have a reputation for moving about in style. What are your go to destinations to go with clients or to go by yourself on vacation?


SELENE KITT

Mexico, for sure, because it’s close and we’re still in a pandemic. Outside of that, for European trips, The Amalfi Coast would be stunning. I also would love to visit the Guggenheim in Bilbao and Paris because it’s so romantic.


PM

Where in Mexico do you like to travel to?


SK

I like Tulum or something closer, nothing crazy.


PM

Where’s the one place you would want to go on your ideal vacation, with or without a client?


SK

Anywhere? I would love to do Italy for at least two or three weeks and just travel throughout Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Venice and Florence, I think that would be amazing.


PM

I love the photoshoot you did in Italy. What was your inspiration behind that photo?


SK

Oh my god. Insane. That entire trip was a blast. Honestly, [being the] third wife.

I was thinking: “3rd wife, and I got the castle. I live in the vacation home while you’re away and I just vibe…” I was so fortunate to rent that castle because most of those properties [in Italy] that were awarded by the Pope in the 16th century are owned by the government so you can’t rent them out. They function more as museums so it was really cool.


PM

How did you get that castle rented? Was it through a friend that had the connection?


SK

I found it on Airbnb, but the town is more like a village, it was so isolated. I shot that 2 months before the pandemic in 2020 but it felt as if I was walking through a 16th century village. It was such a wonderful experience.


PM

So let’s move away from the destination and focus on the journey. What’s in your carry-on bag?


SK

Lots of condoms, hand sanitizer, extra charger, brush or some type of comb, stuff to touch up my makeup, and whatever else I keep on hand. I always keep some nuts on me in case I need a little protein. Ooo! And an extra set of headphones. Not AirPods but the ones you actually plug in. You need those because a long flight with no music, no podcast, is the worst.


PM

That is a really good tip. How do you budget for a tour?


SK

I look at the tour expenses and the number of consultations booked. If I have other business in the city then the bare minimum is that I need to break even with some pocket change, but generally if I’m not making 2-3x what I invested I won’t visit. That’s usually how I budget. In terms of hotels, I use a few apps on my phone because it’s the easiest thing, And I never stay at the hotel too long. That’s something it took me a long time to learn, that you’ve got to switch hotels every two days. You don’t want hotel security getting suspicious when you have different guests coming and going.





PM

That’s really smart. What are your favorite cities to tour?


SK

I like Los Angeles and San Francisco. I didn’t expect to have a client base in California because I didn’t think that I matched the vibe, but apparently I do. Philadelphia too. It’s such an underrated city on the east coast. I have noticed that in the past year, people have started visiting. Considering that it’s sandwiched in between the egos of DC and New York, it feels like a very cool, kind of safe, down to earth place.


PM

I like to call Philly the Boston of New Jersey, that just happens to be in Pennsylvania. How do you maintain your mental health and wellness while you’re traveling?


SK

I try not to overbook. This comes from experience and learning my boundaries. Like, I can see x amount of clients before my social batteries start running low. It’s all about scheduling properly, and scheduling time for yourself.


PM

Do you pack different things if you’re touring East Coast cities or West Coast cities?


SK

No, I don’ t. I like to bring a bikini wherever I go, just in case I can get some pool time. If anything, I just pack more stuff when I go to the west coast because I usually stay over there longer.


PM

How do you recoup after a long tour?


SK

Disappear for a week or two. I don’t go on Twitter or other social media, I just recharge. Count my money and chill.


PM

I love that. Is it also about taking two weeks off to just be yourself, to not be “Selene” and not have to worry about branding?


SK

I don’t think I’m ever not worrying about branding and that’s just part of running your own business, you know? You always have to consider what is going on in the world and see if there’s an opportunity. So I never quite shut off, but I don’t use social media as much after a tour, but after a week or so I’m fine.


PM

From what you share online, it’s clear that you are very interested in contemporary art and art history. What are some of your favorite museums or galleries to visit while traveling?


SK

Philadelphia has a lot of nice museums. One of my favorites is the Barnes Foundation. It’s super modern and with this stunning limestone on the outside that reminds me of The Getty in LA, and on the inside, the galleries are constructed to feel like an early 1900’s home which in contrast to how modern various rooms are along with the exterior of the building provides a nice contrast. It’s as if you’re walking between history.


The galleries are arranged in the same way that the art collector Albert Barnes originally arranged it in his home. He would have a spatula next to a Van Gogh and it’s so intriguing compared to the traditional museum arrangement at somewhere like The Frick. It almost reminds me of how they arranged shows at the Paris Salon in the 18th and 19th century. It’s fascinating and totally underrated. It’s one of my favorite museums. And it’s not like a MOMA or The Met museum, so you can really visit and engage with the work, you know?


PM

Do you just appreciate the finer things or do you have a background in art? I remember seeing somewhere that you were an art student.


SK

I was an art student. I couldn’t draw. So, I decided to focus on digital mediums and marketing. That’s when I was introduced to art history, and I immediately fell in love with it. I wasn’t going to change my major, like, I’m not gonna be in college any longer than I need to. But, I’ve always been interested in art history and I’ve thought about going back to get my masters. But financially, it doesn’t make any sense to pay for that. And I live in New York City now so I have access to all of the institutions I need to further my education. I actually plan most of my personal trips and some business trips around art that I want to see. Especially when I visit Europe.


PM

What are your favorite local spots for things like galleries and attractions in New York City?


SK

Honestly, I’ve just started exploring since things are opening up! I visited the new Dia renovation in Chelsea recently and fell absolutely in love with an artist named Lucy Raven. Her work is dramatic yet subtly comforting. I can’t wait to take a day trip to visit Dia in Beacon. I have visited the Brooklyn Museum several times and I appreciate the relaxed environment compared to the museums in Manhattan. Hauser & Wirth has an amazing show as well. There’s so many on my list from The Hole, Salon 94 and The Studio Museum. I can go on and on…


PM

So what are some of your favorites like painters or artists of the last century, or further back?


SK

Oh, my gosh.

Further back, Van Gogh has always captivated me. I don’t think people properly acknowledge, or even sympathize with the fact that he struggled with mental illness. Art was his way of expressing himself and coping with that. I wish people would appreciate the lengths that he went to for his work but similarly to a Basquiat we have the narrative of the tortured artist which needs to change. Kandinsky is also a big one, but a lot of his work is locked up in Russia, and I’m not going there anytime soon.


I mean, for me, art isn’t a religious experience. But I love the fact that he received that from his work, and was able to articulate that. As far as contemporary artists Kehinde Wildly is incredible. I remember looking at his paintings years ago, and when he did the presidential Obama portrait, I was like, wow, he is a part of history. And that’s amazing.


PM

We’re gonna need a client to commission a portrait of you by Wiley someday.


SK

*laughs* Honestly. I think he’s great.

Kara Walker, she’s the best. I like how she’s unafraid of tackling different mediums.

Another guy, I saw his work when I was in Switzerland, and I went in like ‘whatever’… but it was mesmerizing! His name was Olafur Eliasson. His work focuses on showing the beauty of nature and bringing awareness to how necessary it is that we treat our environment with respect. It was so fascinating, I’ve never experienced anything like that. Kent Monkman is an artist I discovered a year ago that I’m following closely. He paints in the Old Master’s style, and all of his work centers Indigenous People in a way that subverts the narrative in a cheeky manner. He touches on power dynamics and sexuality. One of my favorite pieces is called ‘Nation to Subject Nation’ where you have an Indigenous Chief standing in latex thigh-high red boots with a Canadian soldier doing the nasty. He confronts so many taboo topics and he also seems like a wonderful person. He has some amazing work. I can’t wait to see more of it in person.


PM

Is there a dream piece that you haven’t seen that you would want to see? What’s at the top of your list?


SK

Yes, a Kandinsky piece, the one that’s locked up in Russia. Composition Seven, that’s the name of it. Composition Eight is actually at the Guggenheim. Something else I wish I would have been able to experience was the Kara Walker sculpture ‘A Subtlety’ at the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn. It was a gigantic sugar sculpture and the warehouse was covered in molasses and as the show progressed things began to get sticky and smelly. Just the decay of that alone gets me so excited, I’m so mad I didn’t see it. Like, I was alive. But I didn’t see it.


PM

Which museums have you been to in Italy?


SK

I wasn’t in Italy long enough to enjoy the museums but I want to one day. Honestly, I have a complicated relationship with old or “classical art”. Especially the smells of the room, like the second floor of The Met; it’s a no go for me.


I think a lot about my identity whenever I’m in those spaces, and I can’t help but feel as if I’m almost reliving those times because, physically, I’m experiencing an environment that not only excluded but dehumanized people like me. Specifically the smells bother me the most. I’m like, “Damn, things were not hot for me back then.” And why make yourself feel uncomfortable, you know?


PM

No, honestly. I understand that. I went to like three or four [museums] when I was in Rome. Every time I walked into a room, all I saw was appropriation. Basically, all that I saw was derived from another country. All of this was stolen, and it arrived here. There was some ill will or some kind of bad energy in there.


SK

Yeah, it’s a very uneasy experience. In my art education, thank God, I had a good professor that taught me a well rounded history of art.

Picasso in particular, I respect Picasso’s career in terms of how experimental he was, but so much of his work, specifically Les Demoiselles d’Avignon at MoMA, is obviously inspired by how various African cultures would make these abstract face masks that had held a strong cultural significance for them. The subjects in the painting are naked women believed to be prostitutes and they are depicted in almost a sinister way which is rare considering how the naked female body was portrayed at the time. It seems to me that they’re being demonized and then dressed up with these ‘scary’ or ‘primitive’ masks. I could go on but yet it remains one of the most striking pieces I’ve seen; but it’s important for me to critically assess it.

…I also think about Gauguin, he essentially abandoned his family to pursue his art and to go paint naked 13 year-olds in Tahiti? It doesn’t matter what time period it took place in, that’s something I don’t agree with. I don’t think the art world has completely confronted this because it’s still such a old, wealthy and white space.


PM

A part of what really drives this project, Petit Mort, for me is how many female and queer artists in history were sex workers. They had to be because how else were they going to be free and be able to create this work? To have the time to do that and have the money to invest in it with without doing sex work, it just doesn’t make sense.

You know, there’s this anger that arises when you think about how much of that art has been erased, and how much of it got erased, while being made or re-appropriated. How many queer people of color, or women have created work that literally just has a white man’s name attached to it, because they could never acknowledge us. The system has always been against anybody who wasn’t them.


SK

I was thinking about that a lot. Especially with the nude models [who served as muses]. Some of them were romantic interests or sex workers. Many of them preferred to live a quiet life, but there’s so many of them that bravely stood by their work and inspired these artist on so many levels. I hate that to some capacity and their stories have been erased, especially when in most situations—like the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon—they are literally the center of the work.


PM

As an art history enthusiast on the subject of beautiful, high end photoshoots, do you have concerns about being erased as a sex worker by someone viewing your work in say, 50 years?


SK

I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily concerned. The reality of being a creative, a sex worker, and a black woman is that our contributions are often forgotten. But who do they need to be acknowledged by for them to matter?

The most influential figures of my life are Eartha Kitt, Josephine Baker, Vincent van Gogh, and Marilyn Monroe. These people were unafraid to express themselves and reclaim their narrative through their work despite many misunderstanding them. They were ahead of their time. Similarly, I think sex workers are ahead of their time.

The universe has a strange way of working, and I believe that my story will reach those that it’s meant for. It could be within my lifetime or beyond my lifetime, but I’d rather focus on allowing myself to explore and enjoy these moments while documenting all that I can.




SELENE KITT INTERVIEWED BY PETIT MORT PHOTOS BY PENELOPE DARIO AND LAURA CORINN STYLING BY LEON CRUZ GLAM BY VALENTINA FOX