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Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery: Bill Henson -Police say no case against Bill Henson

May 23, 2008toMay 27, 2008

Bill Henson photoRoslyn Oxley 9 Gallery: Bill Henson

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery: Bill Henson Exhibition – The Controversy so far.

  • ABC Report 6 June 2008
  • Sydney Morning Herald May 26, 2008
  • Copy of the Media Statement From The Roslyn Oxley Gallery website.
  •  Heraldsun report
  •  The Australian Newspaper says
  •  Child art gallery shut..Sky News says
  • And what started it all

No case against Henson: prosecutors
Related Story: Rudd sticks with Henson assessment: Henson avoids charges over National Gallery photos Photographer Bill Henson will not face charges over photographs of a naked 13-year-old girl that sparked a political furore.

Twenty of the artist’s photographs were seized from Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9 gallery last month after complaints from the public.

But the Director of Public Prosecutions has told police there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction.

The decision comes after the Australian Federal Police yesterday said they found the National Gallery of Australia’s collection of Henson’s works did not breach the law.

The Prime Minister, the New South Wales Premier and the state’s Police Commissioner have condemned the photos, with Kevin Rudd calling them “absolutely revolting”.

Assistant Police Commissioner Catherine Burn says police were obliged to investigate the works.

“Police did receive complaints and this has been a matter of significant public concern and debate. This is a complex area of law,” she said in a statement.

“Matters involving the law and art are notoriously difficult and that is why police sought this advice…

“It is the role of the police to respond to community concerns and investigate complaints.”

The works will be returned to the Paddington gallery.

The Classification Board has also ruled that the photograph that sparked the outrage was not pornographic.

The image of the girl was featured in an invitation to the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery’s exhibition and posted on a blog.

The board has ruled the image is mild and “not sexualised to any degree”.

It has given it a PG rating, meaning people under 16 might need parental guidance.

The board cleared another Bill Henson image of a naked girl earlier this week, as well as four partly censored versions used by news websites.
Rudd stands by outrage

Commenting on the Classification Board’s decision, Mr Rudd has stood by his initial reaction.

“My reaction was very-clear cut,” he said.

“I’ve been asked many times since then, ‘Have I changed my view?’ … I have not changed my view one bit.

“I also said, when it comes to the independent processes of the law, they are completely separate from what any individual or politician may think, feel or respond to by way of their own individual judgments.”

Law Society president Hugh Macken said he was not surprised the investigation into Henson would be dropped.

Mr Macken said a prosecution against the artist would have been unlikely to succeed.

“If Henson is not charged, it’s because his photos are not child porn,” he said.

“That is, they do not offend the Crimes Act because they do not show children in a sexual context.”

 Sydney Morning Herald
Another Henson show banned, but not Strange Cargo
Arjun Ramachandran and Josephine Tovey
May 26, 2008

The Newcastle website with the old Henson exhibition.

The Albury Regional gallery removed three images by controversial photographer Bill Henson after local police visited the gallery on Friday afternoon, according to a spokesman from the Albury City Council.

Albury Police went to the gallery after receiving a complaint from the public about several “innapropriate” Henson works on display.

They advised the gallery to remove the images, which the gallery did, following discussions with its staff.

“The decison was made by the general manager following discussion with staff and also in response to discussions with the police,” said James Jenkins, from the local council.

The gallery removed three photographs from display, two of which featured a naked young woman.

Jenkins said he hopes the gallery will be able to display the works again in the future.

“We believe the artist is one of the pre-eminent photographers in Australia and that’s one of reasons why we bought them in the first place,” he said. “If at all possible we want to have them on display.”

Meanwhile, Strange Cargo…

Elsewhere it has been a different story.

A slender young girl, naked, is held from behind by a naked young man – it’s a Bill Henson photograph perhaps not unlike those that have provoked the current storm of controversy.

But this photograph is 15 years old and was part of an exhibition sanctioned by the Federal Government.

As politicians of both major parties criticised Henson’s work in the past few days, it emerged that some of the artist’s photographs of naked adolescents featured in a touring exhibition that was partly funded by the previous government.

The Strange Cargo exhibition was curated by the Newcastle Region Art Gallery collection, and toured through regional Australia over the past two years. It aimed to showcase contemporary Australian art, and included four works by Henson.

One features a naked young girl in a gloomy light. She is held by a young man from behind while another young female holds one of her legs.

Current government not responsible, says Garrett

Arts Minister Peter Garrett yesterday told the Herald that his Government was not responsible for the exhibition.

“I understand that funding decision for this Visions of Australia Newcastle exhibition were taken in 2005 and 2006 by the previous Government,” he said. “That exhibition has now concluded.”

In a statement he refused to offer a personal opinion on the merits of Bill Henson’s art.

“The fact that Bill Henson’s work features in a number of the nation’s galleries and private collections is an acknowledgement of his success as an artist.

“I don’t wish to comment on a case currently under police investigation except to say that while artists have a right to challenge and confront audiences they also have a responsibility to operate within the law.”

Positive response

Most of the Henson photographs that featured in the exhibition were produced in 1992, said Penny Finnigan, acting director of the Newcastle Region Art Gallery.

“We had a very positive response from all the regional galleries where the exhibition toured … it was exceedingly well received,” Ms Finnigan said.

She did not want to weigh in to the current controversy, but said the Federal Government had granted the Newcastle Region Art Gallery a subsidy to help it take the exhibition around the country.

Among the regional art lovers able to view Henson’s work as a result of this funding were visitors to the Newcastle Region Art Gallery, the Broken Hill City Art Gallery, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery and the Ipswich Art Gallery.

The government funding came after the gallery applied to the Visions of Australia program, a government program that assists “the development and touring of cultural material across Australia”.

As part of this application, the gallery was required to submit a list of the artworks it intended to exhibit, she said,.

“And of course the Bill Henson [photographs] were a small number in a larger collection,” Ms Finnigan said.

In storage

The exhibition concluded in February this year and Henson’s photographs were now in storage at the Newcastle Region Art Gallery, she said.

Nick Mitzevich, who was director of the Newcastle Region Art Gallery at the time of the Strange Cargo exhibition, said the timing of the current controversy surrounding Henson’s work was “curious” considering his photographs had been known about and exhibited for many years.

“I would have thought if there was going to be controversy it would have happened with the 30-year retrospective [of Henson's work] at the Art Gallery of NSW [in 2005],” said Mr Mitzevich, now director of the University of Queensland Art Museum.

“I think it’s curious as to why it’s happening now. I think people need to look at the political motivations now.”

The Strange Cargo website continues to display some of the Henson photographs that were featured in the exhibition.

A caption reads: “Bill Henson’s nocturnal theatre is unnerving. Adolescent subjects; naked, vulnerable and oblivious to our gaze, inhabit the twilight spaces of outer suburbs. The vacant lot found on the urban fringe is the natural landscape for Henson’s cast of adolescents and as such is a potent trope for the interstices of adolescence, a time caught between the innocence of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood.”

At the bottom of the site is an icon of the Australian coat of arms that says: “An Australian Government initiative”.

“This exhibition is supported by Visions of Australia, an Australian Government Program supporting touring exhibitions by providing funding assistance for the development and touring of cultural material across Australia,” it states. 

  • Copy of the Media Statement From The Roslyn Oxley Gallery website.

Released Friday 23 May 2008

Statement on behalf of Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and Bill Henson

After much consideration we have decided to withdraw a number of works from the current Bill Henson exhibition that have attracted controversy. The current show, without the said works, will be re-opened for viewing in coming days.

Bill Henson is one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists and is internationally respected. His works are held in every leading art institution in Australia and are included in the collections of a number of the world’s most prestigious art museums. The Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria have both recently held a retrospective of 30 years of the artist’s work.

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery will remain closed while the current exhibition is re-hung.

  • Heraldsun reports

Artist Bill Henson faces child porn art investigation

May 23, 2008 12:25pm
BREAKING NEWS: POLICE have seized several nude images of children from a gallery at the centre of a child porn storm.

NSW police confirmed an operation is underway to remove photographs taken in a Melbourne studio for a controversial art exhibition by acclaimed photographer Bill Henson.

The news comes as the Sydney art gallery said it will take down the pictures after the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described them as “revolting”.

The exhibition features photos of naked 12 and 13-year-old children.

Children who posed naked in a Melbourne studio have been quizzed over whether a controversial art show breached child porn laws.

Mr Rudd today labelled the images revolting and police launched an investigation into the exhibition, which was due to open last night.

Police with a search warrant raided the art gallery on suspicion that some of the artworks depicting young children have broken the law.

Police and the elite Child Protection and Sex Crimes Squad arrived at the gallery about 11.30am.

It is believed police seized any items and artworks they believe break child pornography laws or indecency laws.

The 41 images, taken by Melbourne artist Henson, were withdrawn from the gallery, which has been closed while police try to track down the children involved.

In a statement posted outside the gallery today, manager Amanda Rowell said the works had been withdrawn in response to the controversy.

The gallery said it would re-open the exhbition without the offending images.

“Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery will remain closed while the current exhibition is re-hung,” it said in a statement.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this morning slammed the pictures of naked children as “revolting”.

“I don’t understand why we can’t allow kids just to have their childhood and just enjoy their childhood. I really have a problem with this,” Mr Rudd told the Nine Network this morning.

It is the gallery’s second raid.

Police last night turned up at the gallery, just hours before the opening of the exhibition.

The exhibition shows photographs of naked children in a variety of poses – some of which may have been taken up to a decade ago.

Henson has been called one of the “leading contemporary artists” by the Art Gallery of NSW – but his obsession with pre-teen nudity was slammed yesterday as little more than a fetish for child porn.

“He has a tendency to depict children naked and that is porn,” said child protection campaigner Hetty Johnston of Bravehearts.

Late yesterday detectives swooped on the Eastern Suburbs gallery, interviewing owners Roslyn and Tony Oxley and Henson over the content of the exhibition.

The Daily Telegraph reports that a squad of police spent several hours yesterday examining the photographs of boys and girls believed to be about 12 years of age.

Detectives from the Child Exploitation Internet Unit were also called in to investigate the contents of the gallery’s website.

The webpage displayed all 41 of the naked images, but they have now been taken down and a spokesman from the Australian Communication and Media Authority said the web link was being investigated.

While the models are apparently Australian, the website appears to have been sourced from another country, making it hard for Australian authorities to act.

Ms Johnston called the unit a “toothless tiger” and said that even art should be classified.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma also weighed in from China, condemning the exhibition.

“I find it offensive and disgusting. I don’t understand why parents would agree to allow their kids to be photographed like this,” Mr Iemma said.

Henson has defended his exhibition, telling The Australian: “You can’t control the way individuals respond to the work.”

He said he was interested in exploring “something which is absolutely inviolate and unknowable”.

Henson revealed the pictures were taken in his Melbourne studio and that the children were not professional models. He recently explained his obsession with the naked form in an interview for the industry magazine Art World.

“You apply yourself to the maximum of your ability but nature is always a step ahead of you.

“These portraits are much more connected to the suburban dimension of my work. Right down to the skanky fingernail polish she’s wearing,” he said.

“But I think the more you look at her the more she draws back. There’s an incredible sense of displacement. The models seem to get in a trance. And the slower their movements are, the more interesting they become.”

News Ltd understands the exhibition was never classified officially, as art is considered exempt, and that the exhibition and the web page will be investigated separately.

NSW Minister for the Arts Frank Sartor saw the images – some of which may have been taken up to a decade ago – yesterday and said they crossed the line. “I have been shown some of the images and I don’t like them,” he said.

“I’m sure these images will be debated by the community.

“Ultimately, I think these images do push the boundaries and I can understand why people would be offended.”

Gallery manager Amanda Rowell said the reaction was blown out of proportion.

“It has never been like this before. This is no different to any other exhibition he’s had and he’s had many exhibitions here,” she said. “He’s a master, there’s no one in the world like him.”

Gareth Trickey, Herald Sun; Clare Masters, Justin Vallejo, The Daily Telegraph; Matthew Westwood, The Australian  ..Heraldsun

  • The Australian Newspaper says

Kevin Rudd says Bill Henson naked child pics revolting – May 23, 2008

PHOTOGRAPHS of naked underage girls at a Sydney art exhibition shut down by police are revolting and have no artistic merit, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says.

Police last night shut down the Sydney exhibition of Australian photographer Bill Henson’s work, featuring photographs of naked children, as they investigate its legality.

The exhibition was scheduled to open at 6pm (AEST) yesterday at Roslyn Oxley gallery in Paddington, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

The show includes large photographic prints of topless children, one of which was included on the opening night invitation.

Mr Rudd today weighed into the debate about the merits of the artworks, saying he thought they were “revolting”. “I find them absolutely revolting,” he said the Nine Network.

“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.”

However a leading art expert disagrees saying naked body has been the subject of art for thousands of years.

The question, said art market analyst Michael Reid, is “have the images be sexualised?,” and believes they have not.

The exhibition contains photographs of naked 12- and 13-year olds and was scheduled to open at 6pm (AEST) yesterday at Roslyn Oxley gallery in Paddington, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

It includes large photographic prints of naked children, one of which was included on the opening night invitation.

The images angered child protection group Braveheart, which labelled them child pornography and yesterday called for Mr Henson and the gallery to be prosecuted over the photographs.

But artists and gallery patrons view the shutdown as “censorship” of genuine art.

Mr Reid, who calls Mr Henson Australia’s most significant photographer, says the artist has frequently used young adolescent models as part of his broad range of work, but the images are not pornographic.

He said there was a difference between the image of a nude 12-year-old and a sexualised image of a nude 12-year-old.

“He’s done a huge body of work that goes across a whole range of areas … rural landscapes, a famous Paris opera series … and these adolescence ‘Twightlight Zone’ photographs for about 15 years,” Mr Reid said to ABC Radio.

“Certainly (there have been images of) adolescents naked on cars – that series must be at least a decade old.

“I think the sexualisation of children is an extremely important (issue) – the naked body, whatever age, has been a subject for thousands of years.

“The question is was there consent, which I can’t answer, and has the image been sexualised?

“In my opinion, it wasn’t.”  ….The Australian

  • Child art gallery shut..Sky News says

Police have shut down a controversial child photo art exhibition in New South Wales.The exhibition featured photographs of naked 12 and 13 year olds taken by Australian photographer Bill Henson.The exhibition was scheduled to open last night at Roslyn Oxley gallery in Paddington in suburban Sydney. The images have angered a child protection group, who say the pictures are child pornography.But artists and gallery patrons view the shutdown as censorship of genuine art.Public pressure forced the gallery to cancel the opening just before it was due to open. Police say the exhibition will remain closed to allow an investigation, and they want to speak with a girl featured in the photos before making any further decision….Sky News.

  • And what started it all? 

This article from The Daily Telegraph?

“IF any of The Daily Telegraph’s photographers shot and presented images even half as incendiary and vile as those planned for display at the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery, they would be out of work – and probably inside a police station.

Creative elites have long used the defence of “art” to get away with words and images that in another context – that is to say, outside of art galleries and among normal people – would result in condemnation or criminal conviction.

Try publishing art photographer Bill Henson’s child-obsessed work in a mainstream publication.

You would be shut down in a flash, and rightfully so.

Yet the same images are meant to be acceptable – even inspiring and elevating – when presented at galleries such as Roslyn Oxley9.

We don’t buy it.

Exploitative and degrading images of children are exploitative and degrading – no matter if they are presented in a grubby magazine or in some Paddington art “space” where you get a discount on admission if you’re wearing a beret.

Henson, the photographer in question, whose work has long eluded public censure, seems something of a work himself.

He “presents adolescents in their states of despair, intoxication and immature ribaldry”, according to Art Monthly Australia.

Translation: he takes pictures of kids wearing no clothes and sells them for tens of thousands of dollars. Some of the images that were to be shown at Roslyn Oxley9 (pretentious, much?) cost as much as a decent second-hand Falcon.

Both Premier Morris Iemma and Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell are right to be revolted by the gallery’s planned exhibition.

O’Farrell got it perfectly right with this comment: “Sexualisation of children under the guise of art is totally unacceptable.”

And we empathise with Iemma’s absolute bewilderment: “I don’t understand why parents would agree to allow their kids to be photographed like this.”

Nor do we understand the mentality that could conceive of these graphic and distressing photographs as any more artistic than those found in the lowest reaches of the internet.

Closing this exhibit represents a clear win for decency….Daily Telegaph

 MiSociety has published (below) a sample of some of the comments we have received….MiSociety


 Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery 8 Soudan Lane, Paddington NSW 2021 Phone: 02 9331 191

Email: oxley9@roslynoxley9.com.au

Web: www.roslynoxley9.com.au

Exhibition: Bill Henson Opening Drinks 6-8pm (until Saturday, 21st June) (22 May–21 Jun)