Bill Henson Returns

A new show by the acclaimed photographer Bill Henson will feature portraits of figures, similar to images of naked teenagers that provoked controversy and a police raid of his show at a Sydney gallery in 2008.

The invitation to Henson’s upcoming exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery features a photo of a teenage boy, bare-chested and glistening with sweat, looking pensively away from the camera. Henson has not decided which photos will be shown at the exhibition, which opens on September 20, but in an interview with the Herald‘s art critic John McDonald in this Saturday’s Spectrum, he said "It will focus more on the body, and less on landscape."

It is in stark contrast to Henson’s 2010 exhibition at the Paddington gallery, his first show following the police raid, which appeared to disappoint his detractors by featuring works that were mostly landscapes and architectural ruins. "He ignited controversy – now he’s ditching it," was the title of column in response. However, gallery owner Roslyn Oxley said the show includes both landscape and figurative works that represent themes Henson has explored for more than three decades.

Following the controversy over Henson’s photos, the government of New South Wales, Australia changed its child pornography laws in 2010, removing the defence of artistic purpose. The law change meant artists who create images of naked children have to pay for a Commonwealth classification to ensure against prosecution. Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery submitted works from Henson’s 2010 exhibition to the Classification Board, which ruled they would be "unlikely to offend a reasonable adult".

Oxley said the 2008 scandal had not affected Henson’s work. "There has been no impact. People who love and respect Bill Henson’s work continue to love and respect his work." Last year, Henson gave a speech in which he described the 2008 scandal as "at best inconvenient". In 2008, Henson’s show at Roslyn Oxley9 was raided by police following accusations of child pornography. Several photos were seized, investigated and Henson’s work was labelled "revolting" and "devoid of artistic merit" by the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

In contrast, the then opposition treasury spokesman Malcolm Turnbull, who owns Henson works, criticised the police raids of galleries displaying photos by Henson. Criminal investigations into Henson were widened to include previous work and other galleries were forced to remove his photos from display. But three weeks later, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to proceed with any charges and the seized photos were returned to the gallery.

Henson is one of Australia’s most highly regarded contemporary artists, having represented the country at the Venice Biennale. He has been the subject of exhibitions at major galleries, including the Art Gallery of NSW, which holds almost 70 works by Henson, including landscapes, ruins and figures. "We obviously think he is very important in Australian art," said the gallery’s curatorial director and head of international art, Tony Bond. "I think Henson’s imagination and the depth of his cultural engagement is quite extraordinary."

Henson said he did not seek out controversy. "Some people decide they want to be controversial," he said. "I don’t know who in their right mind could be so stupid."

Found by Will_2010, via The Age and the SMH


25 thoughts on “Bill Henson Returns”

  1. if he was a painter id b impressed……. but if hes takeing nudes of boys thats porn
    if he was a sculptor id b impressed…… but if hes takeing nudes of boys thats porn

    1. Bill Henson is one of the greatest photographers in the history of art. People like “me” can eat my sh*t.

    2. So the fact that it’s a photograph rather than a painting changes what the content is?

  2. I’m not sure why you would think these photos qualify as porn. A lot is in the eye of the beholder. As an artist, however, I will get more to the point: works intentionally meant to serve as porn, i.e., “intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings” has been created in every medium available: paint, drawings, sculptures, cartoons, film, photography. It is not the technology that defines porn but whether it is created primarily — or even exclusively — to help people get sexually excited.

    Back to Henson’s work. You may get sexually excited seeing photographs of people displaying the multiple layers of angst, confusion, distraction, and other conflicting emotions of adolescence, but this is certainly not a one-sided artistic vision.

  3. Bill Henson is a genius. The moral hysterics who would ban his work are modern day witch hunters and psychopaths who should be consigned to the lunatic asylum.
    Thanks for calling attention to this show, Josh.

  4. I see no genitalia can’t see if they wear undies…
    If that qualifies as porn, any shot made with half nude teens/people would be porn too…
    Even if the setting has nothing to do with sexuality

    Porn to me means sexual interaction between 2 people, or 1 playing with him/her self, not a nude pic or semi-nude pic…

    PS. @ me: Painting nude, or sculpting nude wouldn’t be porn?

    Art in any form should move you be it positive or negative… and sometimes push the envelope…

    1. Many people, the ancients among them, consider representations of sex acts to be the highest art form. Marcel Duchamp stated this in no uncertain terms. The fact that photography is a more recent art form is irrelevant. The whole world does not revolve around Puritan morality and in fact many rightly consider the Puritan ethic to be a sickness.

      1. Anyone who googles “Khajuraho temple” will see the sculptures on the temple that portray sexual acts. Those who built this temple didn’t see it as a problem to display such a thing, knowing that kids would see it.Then there’s the multitude of nude statures from the Greeks and Romans. It seems society has gotten more puritanical with time.

  5. This is some of the finest work I have ever seen in my life. Thank you for exposing me to this. A thousand thanks.

  6. “Revolting”. That’s apparently what the australian Prime Minister considers the naked bodies of children to be.

    Well, I guess most youths have received the message already, considering how deathly ashamed most of them are of their own bodies nowadays.

    Guess it’s better for everyone to hate their own bodies than to have a handful of people enjoy other people’s bodies more than is deemed appropriate by our inhibited general public.

  7. This is fantastic stuff. I can’t believe my eyes! This is simply stunning in its beauty. I would love to see him do whole bodies and be allowed to turn his creative genius loose in great spasms of ecstasy. OMG This is brilliant work. I am blown away by it.

  8. Comments by Sjt and Alfred make perfect sense to me. A truely beautiful teenboy in the nude can so easily be the subject of high art. The Puritan ethic really does qualify as a sickness as it is a disavowal of common knowledge as promoted by religion. Freud considered religion to be an obsessive-compulsive neurosis.

  9. Art is as much about what you bring to it, as the art itself. A person’s reaction to a piece of art is more telling of their own character, than that of the artist.

    1. Yes and everytime you look at a quality piece of art you find or experience something new.

  10. Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery submitted works from Henson’s 2010 exhibition to the Classification Board, which ruled they would be “unlikely to offend a reasonable adult”.

    The problem with this is, what would be a “reasonable” adult? Who decides what adult is reasonable? I say as long as the artists subject is a willing participant, there should be no issue.

  11. Alfred is 110% correct. Thanks Josh for these photos. We are much to hung up on the so called purity of these photos. There is not one thing wrong with the human body. If the people who believe in God know that the body was made in the likeness of God, so why do we continually look at the nude body as something evil.

    1. I am not at all religious but it is my understanding that Christian sexual morality as we know it today did not come from Jesus. I think it was St. Augustine who promoted sex as something evil and later Christians used their religion as a means to control the masses.

      1. It started with Paul, actually. To point out: Paul was the first of the apostles to radically separate Christianity from Judaism. Most “puritan” ideology stems from the epistles. Before his time, you had Judeo-Christians, and they weren’t much different from typical Jews. But yes, after the saints went marching in (ha, I made a funny), sex became a taboo.

  12. I don’t see his work as porn. I see it as art. It is beautiful! And I wish I was taken photos of me like this as a child. As a photographer…I love this.


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