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.”
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.