We all know that social media can be quite sticky when it comes to images involving nudity, even for the sake of art, so I wasn’t completely surprised when I read that the contemporary artist Richard Prince had been banned from Instagram. Recently Artlyst had images removed from Facebook in an article reporting on the Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky who nailed his scrotum to the cobbles in Red Square, a protest against Russian police brutality. Again it wasn’t a shock that prudery ruled, as Facebook pulled the pixelated image down, even if it was a valid political statement.
Richard Prince is one of the leading contemporary artists in the US. It is hard to believe that someone who is invited to mount a Guggenheim Museum retrospective in NY, could be banned from Instagram for posting a photo that was exhibited in this very public ‘Spiritual America’ show. Executed in 1983 the photo in question was created by the commercial photographer Garry Gross, borrowed then contextualised by Prince. It depicted a nude portrait of the actress Brooke Shields, age 10. The artwork is no stranger to controversy, it was removed from the ‘POP LIFE’ exhibition at Tate Modern in 2009 by the police, who stated that they didn’t want the museum to “ inadvertently break the law or cause any offence to their visitors.” The work was also banned from the Tate catalogue and 5,000 copies had to be destroyed. There was no mention of the room dedicated to Jeff Koons’ hard core series of art porn, in the next room.
Apparently Mr Prince had been warned a number of times by Instagram before he was banned. He tweeted about the situation in June, “remove all naked pictures of people I’ve been posting. Praise the Fucking Lord.” and: “Is Instagram some kind of religion? What do you mean ‘no nudes’? That fucks up half my shit.” Oh, and a photo of his wife, topless, captioned: “My wife says Fuck You to Instagram.”
“I understand the whole PG- and X-rated idea,” Prince says. “It’s not rocket science.” But, “I felt that Spritual America was an artwork, and if I crossed the line they would tell me and I could take it down. I got emails in the past.” But Instagram eventually does make good on its threat that multiple violations will shut you down. It’s hard to get in touch with someone there if you’ve been banned, and there is no discernible appeals process”. After much talk on the web, the account was reinstated, few days later .Prince however, later Tweeted; “Maybe I’m getting my comeuppance.” And added ‘I actually prefer to just use Twitter!’