Kevin Rudd as art critic

24 May

I have a go at the Bill Henson porno/photography issue on Ninglun’s Specials: But is it art? In today’s Australian Bill Leak leaves no doubts about where he stands:


See also In days of future past by “Jack the Insider” in the Oz.

Meanwhile, politicians and professional hand-wringers have had a field day.

“(Bill Henson) has a tendency to depict children naked and that is porn,” said Hetty Johnston, Executive Director and founder of child protection group Bravehearts.

This morning, Prime Minister Rudd let everyone know what he thought of Henson’s work: “Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected. I have a very deep view of this. For God’s sake, let’s just allow kids to be kids.

“Whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff – frankly I don’t think there are any – just allow kids to be kids.”

NSW Premier Morris Iemma and his Opposition counterpart, Barry O’Farrell, have also weighed in, condemning the artist’s work.

Not surprisingly, The Australian’s editorial cartoonist, Bill Leak, holds a different view to the budding art critics from the political world. Leak has entered the Archibald Prize many times, and been exhibited on 12 occasions. Many of his works are on display in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

“It seems the judgment on what is art or not now falls to the likes of Hetty Johnson, Kevin Rudd, Morris Iemma and the New South Wales constabulary.” Leak said. “Are these the people we turn to to decide whether a work has artistic merit or not?

“By their standards, renaissance painters would have had to go around brushing out the cupids.

“If a child can’t be used in an artistic context then that says a lot more about Hetty Johnson than it does about Bill Henson.”

Judy Annear, senior curator of photography at the Art Gallery of NSW, curated the retrospective exhibition Bill Henson: 3 Decades of Photography in 2005. In today’s Australian she remarks:

It included themes present in his work since the 1970s: landscapes, objects, people young and old.

The show attracted 65,000 over three months in Sydney: a remarkable number for a photography exhibition. It later travelled to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, where a further 50,000 saw Henson’s work.

No complaints were received by the Art Gallery of NSW for the duration of the Sydney show.

The retrospective was accompanied by a large, beautifully produced monograph, which meant that almost everything Henson had ever done could be reproduced. Between the show and the book, there were no punches pulled. There was never a question of censorship, of excluding any of Henson’s photographs.

I saw Henson’s new show at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery before it had a chance to open.

It is a beautiful exhibition, and probably the most calm of any of Henson’s work through his long career.

I find all this a deplorable development, a really bad confusion of categories. What do you think? And Kevin Rudd — shame on you, I say.


See also  But is it art? on Ninglun’s Specials.

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5 responses to “Kevin Rudd as art critic

  1. Rich Houseman

    May 26, 2008 at 11:32 am

    I think it’s important to protect children – they have a right to grow up in a society where they can be free, where they do not have to live under the threat of accusations of being sexual perverts, where they can visit an art gallery or even say what they think without the risk of a police raid. That is the stake for our children in this debate, and Mr Rudd is failing in his duty to stand up for our children.

  2. AV

    May 26, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    “If a child can’t be used in an artistic context then that says a lot more about Hetty Johnson than it does about Bill Henson.”

    Spot on.

  3. Gregory Carlin

    June 12, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Hetty Johnson’s stuff hasn’t been banned from the UK and Bill Henson has. It is child pornography there, all the hick excuses in the world are not going to get 20 US/UK stars signing up to help Bill get a licence to sell photos of little boys genitalia to rich pedophiles or whoever else constitutes a backroom customer. It has also not went without notice that Bill’s topless 13 year old is a dead ringer for 1880s child pornography, so it is Victorian retro-child porn fro a man who is going to be closely watched by euro-cops. We don’t really need Bill in eastern Europe, all things being equal. He is certain;y not going to be encouraged to do a child pornography exhibition in London. That will never blow over here.

  4. ninglun

    June 12, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Gregory Carlin: see my whole set of posts on this topic and you will see that Bill Henson has been cleared of accusations of child pornography, much to Hetty Johnston’s chagrin. Just in case you haven’t followed the story past what I reported here.*

    Why should Hetty Johnson’s stuff be banned? Has anyone even suggested it should be?

    It has also not went is interesting… Hurried typing perhaps.

    * I do note that Gregory Carlin is a serial commenter on this issue: for example, on Censoring Bill Henson: Government, God, and Gallery where it turns out he is from, or is:

    Irish Anti-trafficking Coalition
    4 Downfine Walk

    He also visited Marcellous. Clearly he is one of those people whose commitment to the mission of child protection and against such evils as child prostitution, both of which I recognise as genuine matters of concern, has extended way beyond its brief. I suspect this may also be true of Hetty Johnston, but you may judge for yourself from her own words.

    I offer these remarks not as ad hominem argument, but to contextualise what Mr Carlin has said; it is always relevant to ask “who is saying what to whom, when, where and why?” about anything one reads.

    In his comment on Marcellous’s post Mr Carlin wrote:

    Of course there is a movement, why shouldn’t there be? At the height of sexual rdicalism in the Netherlands they had 300,000 pro-pedophiles who were signed up to the agenda. It took them to the late 1960s to recover from the Nazi occupation, once they’d done that, they hit the ground running. The collapse of sexual radicalism in Holland caused them to move to London and latterly Oz, NZ, and further afield…

    I replied:

    It took them to the late 1960s to recover from the Nazi occupation… which thus must have been a good thing in the history of European morality according to Gregory Carlin?

    He replied:

    “It took them to the late 1960s to recover from the Nazi occupation… which thus must have been a good thing in the history of European morality according to Gregory Carlin?”

    I don’t follow. In relation to what? Some of the pedophiles would have survived by betraying gays to the Nazis. Pedophiles are usually the whip hand in sexual or gay politics. They usually found most of the gay orgs in one country or another.

    The openly pedophile parties are a reaction to the policy of infiltration. But the struggles to recover files, documents, surviving membership lists took to the late 1960s.

    They re-write a lot of their ‘public’ history Soviet style, they have people at it 24/7. Ian Dunn for example will end up a down-trodden hero as wiki revisions go.

    I would have thought my inference was quite obvious, and if anything Mr Carlin has confirmed that by constantly blurring lines between pedophilia and “gay orgs”. Not to mention that it was particularly a picture of an adolescent girl that started this whole brouhaha.

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