VIENNA, Oct 24 — Fed up with social media sites censoring a naked paleolithic Venus and other works of art deemed suggestive, Viennese museums are showing them on the OnlyFans platform, known for hosting explicit content.
An inspired publicity coup on the part of Vienna’s tourist board, the OnlyFans account has won several hundred subscribers since its launch last month.
But the office’s director Norbert Kettner says the move is mostly meant to “start a debate about censorship in the arts and the role of algorithms and social networks in the arts”.
Kettner says the idea was born of museums’ frustrations at the “difficulties when they are promoting exhibitions” due to the strict criteria some social media platforms use when deciding what counts as pornographic.
A notorious example was Facebook’s censoring in 2018 of the prehistoric “Venus of Willendorf” figurine on display in Vienna’s Natural History Museum, considered a masterpiece of the paleolithic era.
Kettner brands the decision “bizarre” and Facebook itself later apologised for the “error”.
“It seems almost strange or even ridiculous” that the nude body is still a subject of controversy, says Klaus Pokorny, spokesman for the city’s Leopold Museum.
“It should be very natural but it is not at all,” he adds.
The museum boasts a key collection of work by early 20th-Century painter Egon Schiele, whose paintings frequently fall foul of social media censorship.
One of Vienna’s other star art attractions, the Albertina, has had pieces in its current exhibition dedicated to Italian artist Amadeo Modigliani likewise judged too “explicit” by some sites.
Pokorny says such incidents have “forced” museums to explore alternatives.
“We did not want to open an account on OnlyFans... but it happened because the most well known international platforms like TikTok, Facebook or Instagram did not accept our works,” he says.
Kettner says it’s almost as if when it comes to taboos around the human body “we are pretty much the same as 100 years ago”.
Art historian and director of France’s Hartung-Bergman Foundation Thomas Schlesser describes the OnlyFans account as a “shrewd” move.
It means “the work regains the provocative or even pornographic character that they could have had when they were first produced,” he told AFP.
The issue goes far beyond the high art canon, according to Kettner.
“Many young artists depend on their online channels and many of them are already thinking: what is it possible to post there?” he points out, warning this can lead to a “sort of unconscious self censorship”.
Several social media sites have said their rules on explicit content have evolved and now make exceptions for works of art.
However, Olivier Ertzscheid, specialist in information technologies at Nantes University, says despite these ostensible efforts “the reality is that when it comes to the representation of the body (especially female bodies) nothing has really changed, whether or not it’s in an artistic form”.
For Ertzscheid, sites’ policies on nudity are part of a sort of “marketing of prudishness” in order to present the sites as safe and suitable for all.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment from AFP on the Viennese initiative.
As for whether the museums could make headway in changing platforms’ policies, Kettner says he hopes for direct discussions with them but has not yet been approached.
He has no qualms about being linked to OnlyFans, a site which has become known in recent years as a popular platform for creators of erotic content.
In August, OnlyFans itself had to back down on a planned ban on sexually explicit content after an outcry from performers.
For Pokorny, the move onto the platform is “not a question of our success on social media but a question of principles”.
He describes it as “a war by other means”, a “fight for our rights, for freedom, for love, for understanding and not for restrictions and people who want to influence our lives”. — AFP