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Grammatical Wendy's Mays London: But discriminating they most frequently are not. D'Argencourt, Joan, et al.
Share via Email Bill Henson is one of the very few indisputably great contemporary Australian artists - a photographer of astonishing talentwhose work is held in the collections of the National Gallery in Canberra, the Guggenheim Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and, in an irony that will soon become apparent, the High Court of Australia. The subject of glowing reviews, various monographs and a small number of lavishly-produced editions the best, MnemosyneArt young girls nude prefaced by an erudite appreciation by David Malouf, one of the country's finest writers, and New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahlhe also represented his country magnificently at the Venice Biennale.
As Art young girls nude wandered through the Australian Pavilion that year, I recall experiencing an emotion conspicuously absent from previous visits; it was actual pride. But late last week, Henson's reputation took something of a battering, when New South Wales police and detectives from the Child Protection and Sex Crimes Unit, acting on a complaint from an anti-child abuse campaigner, confiscated 20 of his photographs from the Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery in Sydney, where his latest exhibition was scheduled to open this week.
The matter is currently under investigation, and police have indicated that child pornography charges may be bought against either the artist or the gallery, over images of a year-old girl in a "sexual context". For the record, and according to a friend in Sydney who has seen the images in question, the teenager is naked. She is not engaging in any form of sexual activity. Were these images sexualised, there might be cause for complaint. But the depiction is not carnal, nor in any sense gynaecological. And over two millennia of Western art attests to the principle that the nude - of whatever age - is not obscene per se.
On the contrary, it's a legitimate and accepted field of artistic representation. This righteous condemnation seems especially absurd when one considers that, inthe Art Gallery of New South Wales hosted a major retrospective of Henson's work, which was viewed by over 65, people including, on three separate visits, this writerand which included a number of images very similar to those seized a few days ago by the police - including some from the Venice Biennale. At that time, not a single complaint was received, and little wonder: Henson's images may be many things - hypnotic, unsettling, ravishing.
But arousing they most definitely are not. Henson is careful to secure the full permission of parents before shooting his models, and a number of his former models have rushed to his defencepraising both his character and his methods. Yesterday, Cate Blanchett added her voice to the protest. But this didn't stop Kevin Rudd, the country's new-ish Labour Prime Minister, from sounding uncomfortably like his unlamented predecessor, the almost comically provincial John Howard, when he weighed in on the topic last week. Rudd told a national TV network that he considered the images "absolutely revolting.
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.
One suspects his taste inclines more to landscapes, tasteful watercolours, perhaps groupings of dogs playing snooker. Paul Getty Museum Guidebook. The High Museum of Art,p. D'Argencourt, Louise, et al. William Bouguereau,exh.
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