Why Pornhub Is Trying to Get Involved With the Art World

One of the works featured in the show: Pervert, 2007 by Kathe Burkhart. Courtesy of Maccarone Gallery

It’s been around for over a decade, and the website Pornhub has already long since established itself as perhaps the world’s most popular online destination for (what else) free porn. Since it has essentially cornered this particular market, Pornhub has in recent years been brainstorming about how to utilize its huge platform within other genres of media.

In 2014, Pornhub launched an in-house “record label” alongside an American Idol-like competition to find new vocal talent, and the website also coordinated with actor-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt while he was crafting his internet porn-laden feature film Don Jon. Most recently, Pornhub has deliberately been making inroads into fine art. In 2018 the website did a show with the Museum of Sex in New York, and later this fall is collaborating with Maccarone gallery in Los Angeles for an exhibition called “The Pleasure Principle.”

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What’s so fascinating about Pornhub beginning to get involved with galleries and museums in a deliberate way is that for centuries, artists, galleries and museums have been consumed with and motivated by capturing human sexuality. Andy Warhol filmed and distributed extensive sex scenes; Marilyn Minter makes photorealist paintings of spiky black public hair, etc. etc. But even in the imagery-saturated 21st century, artwork that directly reckons with pornography (or, even in the more abstract sense, features close-ups of genitals) is seen as titillating and provocative. “I think it’s important to get involved culturally and move the brand in different, diverse directions,” Pornhub vice president Corey Price told Bloomberg. “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.”

Porbhub’s collaboration with Maccarone may not be culture-shifting on the same scale as a new song from a major pop artist or a museum exhibition, but it seems like it’ll certainly be interesting. The show will feature a number of loaned pieces funded by Pornhub’s participation: prints by Lynda Benglis, photos of Bettie Page and sculpture by E.V. Day will all be included and on view. Attendees can even sext with Karen Finley, a performance artist who then turns the resulting content into paintings.

Why Pornhub Is Trying to Get Involved With the Art World