Inside Pornhub’s Latest Venture: A Hardcore Porn Art Guide

By Grace Banks, Contributor
La Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1814 (Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In July, the pornography streaming website Pornhub created a “guide to art world nudes.” The guide featured naked pictures of women throughout art history with the aim to show the most “sex positive” artworks of the world from museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The National Gallery in London, The Prado in Spain, The Louvre and Musée d’Orsay in Paris and others. At the time of release, Pornhub claimed they were trying to "do its part in stimulating the public to visit, explore and fall back in love (or lust) with these cultural institutions." Of the 30 works on show, seven of them are reenacted by porn stars, including Cicciolina playing the part of Venus in Botticelli's Birth of Venus. An optional voiceover by American porn star Asa Akira offers context into the works should viewers want it. Some of the most famous art works in the world feature, including Francisco de Goya’s Naked Maja, Peter Rubens’ The Three Graces, and Paul Cézanne’s The Bathers. But in using the fashionable contemporary language of feminism and gender politics and continually trying to tap into the cultural status of art, Pornhub’s manipulation of the art world —and it’s past decade of finally centering women’s experience — has fallen flat. Pornhub’s latest attempt at cultural cachet is nothing more than another male gaze on women and art.

Pornhub's controversial 'Classic Nudes' guide, image courtesy Pornhub Pornhub's controversial 'Classic Nudes' guide, image courtesy Pornhub


The art world didn’t respond well to the Pornhub Nudes Guide, at all. Since the guide was released The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, and the Louvre in Paris have successfully had the images featured in Pornhub’s guide removed. And despite successfully revoking their images, the Uffizi are currently in legal proceedings to sue the porn streaming site for harmful use of their images. These proceedings have brought up questions over the ownership and interpretations of images in art institutions.

The Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) 1905, Paul Cézanne (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In Pornhub’s art guide, the Uffizi Gallery’s 1598 Venus of Urbino by Titian gets the porn star treatment by porn star couple My SweetApple. A spokesperson for the Uffizi says it is “totally illegal... Done without any permission.” The Prado Museum are also taking legal action to sue over the use of La Maja Desnuda by Francisco de Goya. In response, Pornhub have said they had hoped their porn art guide would drive more footfall to museums following the pandemic.

Undoubtably, global art institutions are problematic in their dominance of the art history narrative. In the last few years, many have come under fire — such as the British Museum’s choice in September 2020 to keep objects by the museum’s slave owning founder Hans Sloane in the Enlightenment gallery, with “no intention of removing controversial objects from display”, a spokesperson said at the time. But the way Pornhub are tapping into contemporary art through the language of empowerment and enlightenment, whilst internally having significant issues removing non-consensual and underage content, renders their efforts irrelevant.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Nude Woman Reclining, 1919 (Photo by: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Recasting images by some of the most lauded artists in art history is nothing new for Pornhub. In May they commissioned the series Resmastured where they combined “vintage porn with modern tech”, remastering old pornographic films for public consumption on their site. In 2018 they commissioned emerging artists, including Berlin-based Keiken and musician Mykki Blanco, to make artwork that reflected “the times we live in”, according to a Pornhub press release. But for the museums and institutions who disputed the use of their images, Pornhub’s use of emerging artists, Hollywood and now art history, uses art and culture as a mask, another way to cast the relentless male gaze in contemporary visual culture onto an untapped body of work — art history — and not a genuine engagement with the arts.

For these institutions and global art audiences, the issue of consent over the use of these historic images is extremely problematic for a company who features thousands of non-consensual videos on their site. In December 2020, a New York Times report found that Youporn was "infested" with videos of child-abuse, revenge porn, incest and rape-related films. In response, Youporn suspended all the videos from millions of unverified accounts, however the problem continues.

For the The Uffizi Gallery, what Pornhub are marketing as progressive, enlightening and modern — a “commitment to supporting the arts” as they describe it, is a harmful piece of PR for a company that is still grappling with the significant percentage of videos that are uploaded to the site without consent. In June, dozens of women sued Pornhub, accusing the company of actively profiting from “child pornography, rape videos, trafficked videos and every other form of non-consensual content”. If the company, which reported 42 billion visits in 2019, cannot permanently delete harmful videos, trying to get on side with the art world when they cannot successfully deal with the alarming rate of non-consensual videos uploaded is empty noise. As The Uffizi Gallery say, “It may seem fashionable to share these images in this context, but we will fight it. No one has granted authorization for the operation or use of this art.”.


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