512px Birth of Venus detail 31c7f

 

“Because porn may not be considered art, but some art can definitely be considered porn.” Or so Pornhub declares in its introduction for “Classic Nudes”, the porn platform’s new interactive website and app designed to guide visitors through some of the world’s most famous erotic art. 

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Meant (in part) to encourage the return of museum visitors as covid restrictions ease up around the world, the site features tours of some of the world’s most famous museums and the nudist art they contain for both in-person visitors and online peekers. From The Met to The Louvre to Uffizi Gallery located in the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence, each museum page provides a spread of notable artworks from their collection accompanied by audio (narrated by adult entertainers themselves), visual, and written guides on the piece as well as brief analysis into its pornographic nature. (There are also hardcore pornographic videos recreations of six of the paintings featured.) The site also provides “Another Perspective” that features sexual artwork from cultures not widely- or well-represented in Western art such as Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro’s woodblock print of a naked Geisha (1802-1803) or works from the Kama Sutra (1690).

Descriptions include sincerely-provided education in art history as well as tongue-in-cheek references to modern-sexual understandings. Describing The Louvre’s Gabrielle d'Estrées and One of Her Sisters (1594), which showcases the two sisters topless, glancing at the viewer while one pinches the other’s nipple, Pornhub notes of the performative nature of the nipple-squeeze as having “early cam girl energy”. 

 

512px Scuola di fontainebleau presunti ritratti di gabrielle destrées sua sorella la duchessa di villars 1594 ca. 06 ce88e

Photo Credit: Uknown author (School of Fontainebleau), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Scroll over to The Met and you’ll find Cezanne’s Bathers (1874-1875). Pornhub informs viewers of the painting that it was created without the use of nude models and instead Cezanne used only his imagination to conjure the naked women bathing by a river, to which Pornhub says its “kind of like what you’re forced to do when you’re internet is down”. The interactive site not only equates some of the world’s most prestigious artwork to the pornography contained on Pornhub’s main site but does so with a wink and smirk at the viewer of both the “porn” and the “art”, ultimately asking us what is the line between the two?

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Nudist art has been in existence for as long as art itself has. Take Venus figurines for example. These Paleolithic-era statues (the oldest of which dates back to 35,000-40,000 years ago) depict the exaggerated female form, large breasts, hips, and butt on top of slender legs and carved genitalia. The discovery of the oldest of these statues (dating back to 35,000-40,000 years ago) prompted news outlets to label the figurines pornographic, an example of our primal obsession with sex, and even as a “pre-historic pin-up”. Many archeologists and historians have since pushed back at the contemporary, sexist framework such an assertion relies upon. 

 

A female Paleolithic figurine Venus of Willendorf Wellcome M0000440 510b2

Photo Credit: CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Whatever the intentions of the paleolithic people who carved the figurines were can never truly be known to us, but our own intentions in naming them “Venus” and insisting on their pornographic nature can be. The goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility is a common feature in Western art, notably including The Birth of Venus (1485), which depicts the goddess’s birth as a perfect, beautiful, and fully-formed woman and is likely the most well-known painting Pornhub includes in its collection. Its inclusion on Pornhub’s website may feel less shocking when you considered their common purpose as art made for and by the male gaze. And although nudist depictions of women in art or pornography itself are not inherently male serving, many/most of those that Pornhub features on its “Classic Nudes” website and on its main one certainly are. 

For its part, the museums and collections that Pornhub has centered on its site, have been less than pleased about their artworks’ inclusion. The Louvre and Florence’s Uffizi Gallery have both sued Pornhub for unauthorized use of its works, and a representative for The National Gallery of London told Hyperallergic that they “will not be taking action that directly or indirectly raises awareness of this project,”—a less than subtle snub of Pornhub’s apparent equation between masterful porn and masterful art. 

What then is the dividing factor between the two? Is it in the judgment of the creator’s intentions: to inspire or to titillate? Or is it in the censure of the audience’s response: for appreciation or for masturbation? Both seem impossible to wholly account for. So maybe it just comes down to in what form do we wish to consume erotic art? Through a screen or in a gilded museum.

 

Top Photo Credit: Sandro Botticelli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Kelsey lives in New York City and is a student at Barnard College, where she studies Anthropology. 

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