Censorship in art has been a theme for as long as there have been artists. Rulers or politicians have opposed works that clashed with power, galleries have censored works deemed obscene, even nudes have been censored throughout art history. Francisco Goya‘s Maja Desnuda miraculously survived the Spanish Inquisition (though it was not exhibited until the early 1900s), Édouard Manet‘s Olympia was not accepted as a depiction of a prostitute, not to mention Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, whose subject you already know.
Denouncing nudity in art may seem like a lack of progressive ideas, in this disease that makes us believe we live in the most enlightened century in history. A distant thought, therefore, that did not survive the 1800s of Goya and Courbet, but of which perhaps we have not completely freed ourselves. Recently, in fact, the Albertina Museum in Vienna has decided to fight the censorship applied by social media to its nude works by opening Vienna’s 18+ content, its OnlyFans profile.
Austria’s tourism board has decided to move the promotion of some exhibitions to the adult content platform, given the recent censorship incidents suffered by Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. In July 2021, the TikTok account of the Albertina Museum in Vienna was blocked after the publication of nude photos by Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki. This is not an isolated case given the similar precedent in 2019, this time due to a work by Pieter Paul Rubens.
Helena Hartlauer, a spokeswoman for the Vienna Tourist Board, called the attempt to promote the museum’s activities through social media “unfair and frustrating“. “That’s why we came up with OnlyFans”.
Artists and museums have been in constant battle with the conditions of social use regarding censorship for a few years now. Right now, the criteria and boundaries of what’s allowed and what’s not are objectively fuzzy.
Even the photograph of the Venus of Willendorf, a statue dating back 25000 years and always exposed in Vienna at the Museum of Natural History, was considered pornographic by Facebook that removed it from the platform in 2018.
At the base of the problems of censorship there is another one of defining pornography, especially when it involves subjects that are born to be an expression of artists’ creativity (as in the recent case of Araki’s photos), or even more serious if they involve works of great anthropological and archaeological value (just like for the Venus of Willendorf).
Other cases of censored works in Austria involved the Leopold Museum and several Egon Schiele portraits that were rejected by advertising regulators in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States during a 2018 Vienna tourism promotion campaign. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the same museum, a video featuring Koloman Moser’s painting Liebespaar was rejected by Facebook and Instagram as potentially pornographic.
It is clear that the relationship between art and online censorship must be modified, taking into account the concepts of freedom of expression and representation of subjects.
The idea of bringing artwork and promoting tourism through a platform that has over 150 million users is certainly a plus. The first members of “Vienna’s 18+ content” on OnlyFans will also receive discounts on exhibition tickets. However, the launch of the Albertina Museum in Vienna on OnlyFans is not a clever commercial operation. It’s a strong declaration of the operators in the art sector against censorship, following the wave of the social campaign #FixTheAlgorithm.
Be careful, however, not to put all the blame on an abstract entity like the algorithm and not to find an excuse to cry out for the return of the Spanish Inquisition.