Art has always posed a problem for Facebook. Its community standards ban nudity, and the combination of algorithms and overseas workers that scan the site for infractions have trouble distinguishing between an artistically nude image and a pornographically nude one. It’s usually a little funny when this happens and prompts lots of lightly outraged stories about Facebook’s philistinism and discussions about context and censorship and what is art, anyway?
Now it seems New York magazine’s art critic Jerry Saltz has been caught in the net. While his public Facebook page is still up, he tells The New York Times that he can no longer post to it, and his feed is filled with followers asking, "Jerry, can you reply to this?" They receive no reply.
Saltz’s case is probably a little different than the typical ones, though. Over the years he’s developed a large following on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, partly by posting things that are somewhat saltier and more risqué than you might expect of a 63-year-old art critic.
This has landed Saltz in trouble before. Late last year he posted "a graphic picture of a woman's thrashed behind," in his words, to Facebook with the caption "This is what your critic does to artists who have been very very bad." That prompted accusations of sexism, which he replied to with a New York magazine essay titled "When Did the Art World Get so Conservative?"
It’s unclear what the offending post was, but it may not be a case of Facebook banning art that, taken out of context, could be porn, but of Saltz taking art and adding context that turns it pornographic — or at least potentially offensive to someone encountering it on their newsfeed. In other words, Saltz was being a bit of a troll. Which is probably why the art world, while generally calling for Saltz's reinstatement, is not reacting to his ban with unmitigated dismay. The headline on Artnet, which first reported the story, is "Jerry Saltz Got Banned from Facebook — About Time."
Saltz, for his part, doesn’t seem too upset. "For today at least, good riddance. It’s the land of like," he told the Times. And there’s always Twitter.