Instagram Censors NYC Art Show About the Nude Body

A New York art gallery currently showing an exhibition that aims to de-sexualize the concept of nudity had its Instagram account flagged for … posting an artwork depicting a naked body.

Nudity is not Radical!, a group show at Kravets Wehby Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, is coming face-to-face with the premise of its conception as the artists in the exhibition navigate agency versus approval through the naked figure.

Gallery Director Emily Saltman, who curated the show, shared that it was born from her experience seeing Édouard Manet’s “Olympia” (1863) in person for the first time in the Manet/Degas show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this fall. Reflecting on how so many of the painting’s initial viewers were scandalized by the presentation of its subject, who was modeled after a sex worker, and by the foreground inclusion of a Black woman, Saltman said she knew what she had to do.

Nudity is not Radical!, on view through February 3, is exactly what it says — a presentation of the nude figure beyond a sexualized context. Across painting and sculpture, the objectively benign exhibition works tackle themes like gender identity and race, body image and athleticism, and health and consciousness. Perhaps the most provocative work is Alexandra Rubinstein’s painting “The Venus Trap” (2023), portraying a nude male figure and painted using the artist’s menstrual blood.

And it was “The Venus Trap,” or just a crop of it, that set off Instagram’s algorithm police. A few days before the opening reception, Saltman made and posted a “cheeky” edit of the work as an invite card on the social media platform and got an immediate notice that the post “could limit [the gallery account’s] reach with non-followers.” Then, when gallery owner Marc Wehby shared the same edit on his personal Instagram account, Meta instantly removed the post.

Many of the featured artists, including Rubinstein herself and painter Assata Mason, who is represented by Kravets Wehby, report that Meta has deleted their posts before. Rubinstein told Hyperallergic that her older work — detailed paintings of penises or male icons and celebrities performing oral sex on female genitalia — was far more sexualized than “The Venus Trap,” but only removed on occasion, while the latter was flagged on her account immediately. Meta has not responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.

Mason, who typically paints nude imagery of herself, says that she removes clothing from her work because “clothing is very particular to time” and has its own loaded meaning. “People perceive my nude figure as inherently sexual, when it’s neutral to me,” she told Hyperallergic. “She [the figure] isn’t in a leather harness … There’s as much connotation to clothing as there is to the absence of it. This is just my body and it just exists.”

Hyperallergic reached out to the online arts activism group Don’t Delete Art (DDA) for insights about content guidelines impacting individual artist accounts versus those of commercial or cultural entities like galleries and museums. Editor-at-Large Emma Shapiro, who is a Hyperallergic contributor, shared that DDA has seen “an evolution as to how accounts are flagged on Meta platforms.” She added that the Instagram Recommendation Guidelines shown to the gallery account are “a window into how and why the platform downranks content,” a phenomenon also known as “shadowbanning.”

“While we cannot answer as to why a gallery versus an individual would be treated differently over the same imagery, it is a frustrating event we have witnessed many times and could include a number of factors,” Shapiro said. 

Shapiro recommended that individual artists register their Instagram accounts as Professional/Business accounts in the application settings to become eligible for Recommendations Guideline Violation insights, and possibly help contextualize imagery.

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