Pornography has historically been defined against art, though lately those lines have become blurred. Search “art” on Pornhub and you’ll find videos with titles like “The art of emotional porn” and “Best sex art therapy ever” and “Swedish art singing pussies (behind the scenes),” as well as some videos of actual naked performance art practices from the likes of Spencer Tunick.
Art, like pornography, has long been organized around the male gaze, but Maccarone’s new show “The Pleasure Principle” features only female artists—Lynda Benglis, Amy Bessone, Louise Bourgeois, Delia Brown, Kathe Burkhart, Nao Bustamante, Cameron, Renee Cox, E.V. Day, Martha Edelheit, Mary Beth Edelson, Tracey Emin, Karen Finley, Trulee Hall, Hilary Harkness, Ann Hirsch, Narcissister, Bettie Page, Annie Sprinkle, Anita Steckel, Doris Wishman and Bunny Yeager—spanning several generations and each producing their own visions of desire.
Pornhub, which commissioned the show, and Maccarone, which is hosting it, are described in their exhibition text as spaces of “uninhibited sexual content” and “unfettered artistic expression,” respectively—spaces in which one can be free. They’re also both spaces that curate other people’s content. Maccarone does not make its own art, and Pornhub does not make its own pornography. Given the overwhelming volume of pornography that now exists—far more than a person could watch in a lifetime—the role of pornography curator may be a boom job for the future (someone capable of choosing the right actors and films to satisfy particular tastes and understanding deep desires in a way that algorithms can’t yet) but for now we have a historical survey of high art erotica commissioned by the world’s largest pornography and tech company over in Los Angeles, where the porn industry remains far larger than that of art.