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Pornhub is sponsoring a show at the Maccarone gallery in Los Angeles.

The fine line between art’s tasteful nudes and pornography’s graphic takes on human sexuality will be blurred this month when Maccarone gallery in Los Angeles partners with Pornhub to present an exhibition called “The Pleasure Principle,” (Sept. 21–Nov. 23.).

Michele Maccarone is known for presenting challenging, occasionally impenetrable contemporary art by the likes of Bjarne Melgaard and, more recently, actor Jim Carrey. 

Pornhub is known to its roughly 120 million daily visitors for streaming porn.

“But we’ve been reaching out and doing a lot of diverse things for quite some time now,” says Corey Price, Pornhub’s vice president. Among other projects, the website, which reported 33.5 billion visits in 2018, did a show with the Museum of Sex in New York called “STAG: The Illicit Origins of Pornographic Film.” 

“I think it’s important to get involved culturally and move the brand in different, diverse directions,” Price says. “But we don’t just randomly sponsor art things—we want it to be part of the conversation of sex and sexuality in the art space.”

The company was put in touch with Maccarone and suggested an exhibition “highlighting pleasure and sexuality.” Almost immediately, he says, “we were on the same page about what we were trying to achieve.”

Representation of Women

The calculus behind a streaming-porn site sponsoring an exhibition of envelope-pushing, sexualized art is fairly straightforward.

From a gallery’s end though, the exercise could be fraught: Consensual sex work and pornography, by definition, raise complex questions of misogyny and exploitation.

But Maccarone says that a pro-sex, pro-female show is directly in keeping with her gallery’s programming, which hosted feminist art exhibitions in 2016 and as recently as last year. “I have a whole thing about the current mode of content-cleansing. Art is so market-driven these days, and I’m interested in reclaiming this history of sexuality, specifically female sexuality. It’s something I’m really passionate about.”

 

A New Model

And so Maccarone and Pornhub worked out an arrangement whereby she would choose the art—some 50 works in total—and Pornhub would “commission” the show, meaning that it would pay for the show’s production and installation, with minimal interference. 

“There are a couple of artists where the production and installation is really expensive,” Maccarone explains. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own.”  

In the past year, Maccarone’s gallery has retrenched and downsized for financial reasons; she closed her New York space and reduced the stable of artists she represents from around 20 to about two. “As a gallery, economics are tough these days,” she says. “I’m struggling in this new world order, in terms of finding my place and voice.”

Her current strategy, she says, is “pivoting to a new model, where a gallery can work more fluidly.”

 

What’s for Sale

Despite what amounts to philanthropic contributions from Pornhub, Maccarone stresses that the exhibition is a commercial one.

Some of the objects are on loan—there are some gouaches by Louise Bourgeois, a series of prints by Lynda Benglis, and vintage photographs of Bettie Page that aren’t for sale—but many of the artworks come with price tags.

There’s everything from a vintage photo of pinup model Bunny Yeager that costs $500 to an $80,000 collage (acrylic, digital photo, fur, and linoleum) by Kathe Burkhart.

There will also be interactive pieces, including Karen Finley’s “Sext Me if You Can,” a performance wherein viewers spend 10 minutes sexting Finley, the content of which she then turns into paintings. (The piece was previously performed at the New Museum in New York.)

“I would hope this show has a huge audience,” Maccarone says. “I’m going to great lengths to make sure there are interactive works, with artists on the premises.”

As for potential criticism, Maccarone asserts: “I honestly don’t care.”

“For me, it’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve worked on in a long time,” she says. “There’s a way you’re supposed to behave in the art world—represent an artist, go to art fairs—but [art] should be anything goes.”

 

Saarinen’s Mother I , 2008 by E.V. Day, will be included in the exhibition.Source: Maccarone