Facebook apologized, but other instances of social media platforms banning artwork followed over the years. So Vienna’s tourism board is trying a different approach — showcasing museums’ art on OnlyFans, a subscription-based website most closely associated with sex work. For $4.99 a month, subscribers to the tourism board’s page can check out “explicit” works held at four of the Austrian capital’s famous museums.
In announcing the “Vienna laid bare” campaign, the tourism board said the museums and their artwork “are among the casualties of this new wave of prudishness — with nude statues and famous artworks blacklisted under social media guidelines.” Those museums give people a chance to see works by artists including Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser, who “pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in art at the time,” the tourism board said.
“So it hardly comes as any surprise to learn that some of their artworks fell foul of the censors over 100 years ago,” the tourism board added. “And the battle against censorship still rages on: with the rise of social media, bans like these are back in headlines once again. Major social media channels like Instagram and Facebook have nudity and ‘lewd’ content firmly in their sights.
“That’s why we decided to put the capital’s world-famous ‘explicit’ artworks on OnlyFans.”
The campaign was devised after some of Vienna’s museums, including the Leopold Museum and the Albertina, ran into problems posting artwork containing nudity to social media. In July, the Albertina’s TikTok account was suspended and then blocked for publishing Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki’s pictures. The suspension forced the museum to create a new account. In 2019, Instagram determined that a painting by Peter Paul Rubens violated the platform’s rules prohibiting any nudity, even if it is “artistic or creative in nature.” And this year, the Leopold Museum sought to mark its 20th anniversary by producing a short video featuring Koloman Moser’s 1913 painting “Liebespaar,” which shows a nude couple. Facebook and Instagram rejected it as “potentially pornographic.”
Helena Hartlauer, a spokeswoman for the Vienna Tourist Board, told NBC News that social media was a critical tool for museums looking to showcase their artwork while obeying social-distancing guidelines during the pandemic. She said she worried that social media policies would lead artists to self-censor their creativity to be able to showcase, promote and sell their artwork online without its being banned.
“Right now, an algorithm determines what is okay to see and what is not,” Hartlauer said. “And it definitely should not determine our cultural legacy.”
OnlyFans has made its own news recently over censorship. In August, the company announced it was banning “sexually explicit” content, a move it said was the result of requests from the banking industry. But after blowback from a significant number of users, OnlyFans quickly scuttled the plans.
Hartlauer said the tourism board would keep the OnlyFans account beyond the “Vienna laid bare” campaign, though she told the Guardian she did not know how the page would be updated.
“This marketing initiative of ours is not the ultimate solution for this problematic relationship between the art world and social media, but … we want to stand up for our values and our beliefs,” she said. “Vienna has always been famous for being open-minded.”