Philadelphia Museum of Art Wins Fight with Facebook over Racy Pop Art Painting

The museum used Facebook's censorship as a teachable moment.

Evelyne Axell, Ice Cream, 1964.
Photo via Philadelphia Museum of Art. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Evelyne Axell’s painting Ice Cream (1964), showing a woman licking an ice cream cone, has drawn Facebook’s ire.

Censors working at the social media giant recently removed an image of the painting from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s (PMA) page for being too suggestive. But the museum has won this fight. The painting is now back online, and the museum is using the painting, which shows the young woman with bright orange hair against a bright green, yellow and blue background, to prompt debate about depictions of women.

The museum is using the image to promote its presentation of the show “International Pop,” which was organized by the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, and comes to the PMA on February 24. The exhibition, one of 2015’s most buzzed-about shows, features artwork created between the late 1950s and the early 1970s throughout Europe, Latin America, and Asia, shedding light on the fact that Pop was a global phenomenon. Among the artists included are not only stars like Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein, but also lesser-known practitioners like the UK’s Clive Barker, Japan’s Ushio Shinohara and Keiichi Tanaami, Brazil’s Wanda Pimentel, and Dalila Puzzovio of Argentina.

Axell’s work, the museum says on Facebook, “can be understood as a critique of mainstream Pop Art, in which women were often depicted as passive, decorative objects. In contrast, Axell sought to depict active, confident women who pursue satisfaction on their own terms—such as the protagonist of Ice Cream, who unabashedly enjoys her dessert.”

Some Facebook users are understandably outraged at what they see as double standards that allow images of women turned into sex objects or as the victims of violence, but disallow the Axell painting. (The social network has also been criticized for censoring Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid sculpture, a Marina Abramović-mocking nude performance piece, and art critic Jerry Saltz.)

“To the Powers that Be at Facebook,” writes Colleen Kramer Kessock, “If this is ‘offensive,’ then I would really like to stop seeing pictures of women in thongs, bent over. Thank you.”

Others are less convinced of the painting’s merits.

“The artist’s weak portrayal of thinly disguised sex acts is too cheap to be considered art,” writes Chuk T. Gilroy, adding, “It’s about shock value. It is to art what breaking glass is to singing.”

“International Pop” is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art February 24–May 5, 2016.

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