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Facebook pays up in censorship battle over French ‘vagina painting’

Facebook has agreed to settle a years-long legal battle with a French teacher who sued after the social media giant shuttered his account when he posted a renowned 19th-century painting that features a woman's genitals, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Facebook pays up in censorship battle over French 'vagina painting'
The painting at the centre of the row is in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Photo: AFP

The dispute dates to 2011, when the teacher, Frederic Durand, ran afoul of Facebook's ban on nude images after posting a link that include a thumbnail image of L'Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World), an 1866 oil painting by the realist painter Gustave Courbet.

The painting is one of many treasures that adorn the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and Durand argued that the US tech giant was infringing on his freedom of expression.

READ ALSO Giant clitoris sculpture stolen from French university campus . . . again

L'Origine du Monde by 19th century artist Gustave Courbet. Photo: AFP

He sought €20,000 in damages and initially won his case in a Paris court. A higher court overturned the ruling in March 2018, though it scolded Facebook for not initially explaining why the account was closed.

Durand had been preparing an appeal, but in a statement to AFP, his lawyer Stephane Cottineau said a deal had been reached for Facebook to make an unspecified donation to a French street art association called Le MUR (The WALL).

“This donation ends the legal battle between Mr Durand and Facebook,” Cottineau said, without specifying why the street art association had been chosen, or which side had initiated the settlement talks.

Facebook declined to comment on the settlement when contacted by AFP.

Already in 2015, it had announced rule changes clarifying that posts depicting nudity in artwork were acceptable.

L'Origine du Monde, one of several female nudes completed by Courbet, shocked the stiff bourgeois society of his time.

It is believed to have been commissioned by a Turkish diplomat in Paris who was forced to sell it after racking up huge debts because of his gambling addiction.

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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