August 1, 2012

Facebook Censors Pompidou's Gerhard Richter Nude, Fueling Fight Over "Institutional Puritanism"

PARIS — The French blog “Les Notes de V├ęculture” sounded the alarm recently when Facebook removed an image of Gerhard Richter’s “Ema” from the Pompidou Center’s Facebook page. The museum’s Richter retrospective is running from June 6 through September 24 and the image on Facebook had received 1,300 “likes” before it mysteriously disappeared overnight, a casualty of what Les Notes de V├ęculture called “institutional puritanism” in the United States. After the Pompidou Center complained, Facebook restored the Richter painting to its page. But questions still remain regarding the way Facebook treats different artistic media differently.

After the Pompidou Center’s digital projects manager Gonzague Gauthier took to Twitter on Monday to complain about the censorship, Facebook’s French PR agency contacted him to apologize. Gauthier told ARTINFO France that the agency spokesperson explained that Facebook confused the Gerhard Richter painting with a photo, which would have violated the general conditions of use: nude photos are forbidden but not nude paintings or sculptures.

What to make of this cultural exception on Facebook that only applies to paintings and sculptures? Gauthier shared his surprise with ARTINFO France, noting that photographers also depict unclothed bodies and asking, “Are there artists that you don’t have the right to put up on Facebook? How can we accomplish our communication mission on a network like Facebook?” The Pompidou Center’s administration has come up with the idea of holding a roundtable with Facebook to discuss such issues. It hasn’t been scheduled yet, but “for now Facebook remains open” to the idea, according to Gauthier.

It’s not the first time that Facebook has played censor, having previously disabled the accounts of users who posted Gustave Courbet’s racy painting “The Origin of the World” and annoying the New York Academy of Art by frequently removing nude works of art from the school’s page. Facebook apologized to the school for the mistake, but the issue of the Courbet painting is still unresolved. A French Facebook user is currently suing the company in a French court for infringing on his freedom of speech by blocking the Courbet image from his page. Facebook’s user conditions require any legal action against the company to be brought before a court in Santa Clara, California, but the plaintiff’s lawyer claims that this is unfair to Facebook users in other countries such as France.

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