Louvre in the Time of Pornography

A good Gardener carefully plots their rows of plants and seeds. On occasion, a bold wildflower weeds its way into the planned design. While your loyal Gardener had a different post ready for this week, the news that the Louvre and Uffizi galleries had filed a lawsuit against Pornhub is too hard to pass up.

Yes, there’s a porn parody on the app…

To summarize the dispute: PornHub released an alternative museum tour app that recreates famous works of erotic art with real live naked performers. (You can click here to see the actual NSFW app.) The app features a porn star well connected to the contemporary art world and audio guides that parody what might be offered in the actual guided and audio tours of the institutions. It’s actually kind of clever.

Remember: this is art.

So besides the fact that this feels like a satire of an art world news story, what’s the big fucking deal? It’s not just the idea of two iconic institutions (and the Uffizi 😊) from opposing ends of the culture spectrum facing off in court. It’s always fun to see snobs and slobs in conflict; Rodney Dangerfield made an entire film career out of this. It’s also not exactly about the clash of high and low culture. Remember, there’s a lot of art in these museums that has been categorized as pornographic at some point or another. There’s also some pornography that aspires to art.

Eyes up here, buddy.

The bigger issue involved in the suit is the timeless question of who owns controls culture and what it really means to own a work of art. While there may be country specific nuances to copyright and fair use laws in France and Italy—maybe this is why the Met hasn’t joined the suit—the basic principles don’t seem to apply here. The works portrayed by adult performers in the app would all seem to be in the public domain based on age and the artists being long dead. While the museums own the physical pieces, the depictions in them belong to all of us. That’s why we’ve been able to publish several of them on this page. PornHub also can make a case based on parody exceptions carved out into copyright laws. We’ve done this too at HV. At the end of the day, while not everyone may be comfortable siding with PornHub due to their other documented issues, anyone who believes in free speech and sex positive work should come to the same conclusion.

Busted for looking at porn in a museum

That said, it seems like the Louvre, Uffizi and any other galleries uncomfortable with PornHub’s creation have another option: simply ban the app within the galleries. Ask any patrons using the apps to please stop. If the museums want to be dicks, they can ask the visitors to leave. If the visitors are dicks about it, then the museums should ask them to leave. Presumably, watching porn on a phone in a museum was prohibited before this app. If not, that’s a serious oversight that shows zero understanding of contemporary streaming and internet culture. If you want to see porn parodies of artworks, do it from the comfort of home or a safe sexual space. If you want porn that rises to the level of art, it should be hanging on the museum walls.

Or maybe you can find some on a scrappy independent arts website…

Image Credits

Louvre at Dusk, Martin Falbisoner. Pyramid modified by HV. Licensed via Creative Commons..

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli.

The Origin of the World, Gustave Courbet.

Grande Odalisque, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Young Male Nude Seated beside the Sea, Hippolyte Flandrin.

All paintings in the public domain.

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