Sunday, August 1, 2021

Exploiting Old Masters

I am going where angels fear to tread. I was intrigued by the headline, “Louvre Sues PornHub” as well as a similar headline about the Uffizi in Florence. The stories are about the “Classic Nudes” project on the PornHub website which features 30 works of art with verbal commentary and, in some cases, recreations of the scenes with members of a porn troupe.

You will forgive me that I have not gone on the website, but I do not wish to receive emails from them for the next 3 years. In any case, I believe our imaginations will be much more graphic than the real thing. I further fear that images of old master paintings will be deleted and that would be another level of censorship since some of those images are in the most important museums in the world. Instead, I will give the links so that with a click you can look them up online without fear. Don’t worry these are by major masters and some are considered icons of art history. Here is one of the offending images, “The Brunette Odalisque” by Francois Boucher circa 1745.

From Hypeallergic, the free art news site, “But PornHub’s attempt to heat up art history has not been met with universal arousal by the institutions whose prized artworks were chosen for this noble mission: the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has taken legal action against the free porn provider, claiming that the company used its images and other content without permission.” Here is the image mentioned from the Uffizi. The well-known “Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485.

Use without permission is obviously the legal reason to back up the museums’ objection but I bet there is a subtext here that the museums feel that the artworks are being defiled by being associated with porn.

Another institution mentioned in these articles that has announced that it does not plan to join the suing institutions is the Metropolitan Museum. It has a most explicit nude by a young art student whose name you may also recognize, the Impressionist Edgar Degas with his “Male Nude” of 1856.

A video ad for PornHub says “Porn cannot be considered art, but some art can be considered porn”. I am not promoting porn and not saying a lawsuit claiming use without permission is not an issue, but my question is what is the harm? The painting is owned by a public institution not a private individual and it is not for sale. In fact, in the case of the Louvre it is not even allowed to deaccession its paintings.

No one goes to a site such as PornHub unless that is what they are looking for. However, is it not a good thing if we can encourage people who a former director at Public Television used to call, “the great unwashed” to visit our museums. In the process of seeking out the nudes that might be on view they might become acquainted with what is considered great art and perhaps learn something of the history behind it.

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