Art and Pornography. Why Does Pornhub Flirt With Art?

By Abel Cervantes

Last week the porn platform Pornhub launched an interactive museum guide with more than 120 pieces showing naked bodies. Pornhub’s question is this: can you consider some erotic art pieces? What happens if, to affirm it, we endow them with movement? The former porn actress and ex-wife of Jeff Koons, Cicciolina, was in charge of “curating” the virtual exhibition.

The question about pornography and art comes from a long time ago: how to distinguish an artistic image (painting, photography, video, film, performance, etc.) where there is a nude from pornography? In the book Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, the Italian semiologist Umberto Eco responds that, in addition to the obvious, pornography does not use narrative mechanisms or aesthetic resources to show what it wants to show. That is to say, get to the “issue” bluntly. Meanwhile, a film or a work of art is interested not only in the nudity of bodies—or in their interaction with other bodies—but in the internal processes for presenting them to the public. And they not only want to implant the desire in those who see the images but to provoke other things. Sometimes deep and thoughtful.

In certain niches that are still exalted by the existence of pornography (it is strange that certain societies deny a product that they themselves invented and that, by the way, generates millionaire profits year after year) the news fell as. How is it possible that this porn site dared to replicate the sacred works of art that surround us! Does the subject belong to what Walter Benjamin exposed in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Does the most traditional art contain an aura that makes it sacred? Yes, but also to a more current question about the rights of images that circulate on the internet: to what extent can we appropriate the images to use them commercially?

For now, both the Louvre Museum and the Uffizi began legal proceedings against the pornography site. According to the policies of both museums, the works of art that are within their facilities and want to be replicated must have an explicit permission from the museums, as well as pay for that permission, which Pornhub did not do. It is very likely that the pieces will stop circulating soon (honestly I have not had the curiosity to review them: what kind of cultural expectations could a piece fulfill that “adds” eroticism to one that already has it?). I have no doubt that Pornhub’s move was successful in generating (more) traffic to their website. But the real discussion is elsewhere: how are cultural appropriations to be regulated? Is it necessary to transfer the concept of aura from traditional artistic pieces to the digital environment?