Tag Archives: Bill Henson

Paul Yore Justice Delayed

On Monday the 25th of November at 11am there was meant to be a mention hearing for Paul Yore in the Melbourne Magistrates Court. On Saturday 1st of June police had raided the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts and removed 7 collage works by artist, Paul Yore alleging that the art was child pornography. There were about four or five journalists in Court Room 7 from before 11 am.  There was no sign of Paul Yore or the Informant, Snr. Cons. S. Johnson of Victoria Police.

Paul Yore, "Fountain of Knowledge", 2013

Paul Yore, “Fountain of Knowledge”, 2013

Paul Yore is young Melbourne artist who has work on exhibition in Melbourne Now currently on at the National Gallery of Victoria. 2013 has been a strange year for Yore along with multiple exhibitions and the police raid, he was thrown out of Sydney Contemporary at the last moment and won the $8000 Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award. Through all of this Paul Yore has been keeping silent and a low profile. This was the tactic that spin doctor, Sue Cato recommend to Bill Henson and Roslyn Oxley when the media storm blew at them. Yore’s team has adopted this same tactic.

It has been difficult to get information out of either side. Senior Sergeant Brens, the Acting Senior Sergent of the Media Unit of Victoria Police wrote on the 30th August: “The investigation is ongoing and there is no update. I’ve been advised there may be some progress in a couple of weeks so please check in again after 13 September 2013.” Then on the 7th of September, the day of the Federal Elections, news that Paul Yore had been charged with producing and possessing child pornography came out the in Murdoch owned media.

Australia has a poor history of philistine persecutions of artists; the exhibition that the police raided at the Linden Centre, “Like Mike” was a response to the Australian artist, Mike Brown. In 1966 Brown was convicted of obscenity and was sentenced to three months hard labour that was reduced to a $20 fine on appeal. Since then the Australian police and censors have been intermittently and unsuccessfully tried to prosecute artists. It is a repeated pattern and questions need to be answered about the police censoring the arts in Australia. Moral panic over the depiction of children is currently being used as an official cudgel to beat artists. Bill Henson has already withdrawn from 2014 Adelaide Biennial after a SA police detective urged Premier Jay Weatherill to stop Henson’s participation. Sydney Contemporary’s Director Barry Keldoulis uses a lawyer to determine if artists can be shown in NSW.

It was former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who promoted attacking Bill Henson’s photographs in an appearance on breakfast television. Not that the Australian government is any kind of example of benevolent treatment of children. Not that the police seizure of Yore’s art has much to do with moral panic it is more about the police being used by some right wing politicians trying to destroy the Linden Centre’s funding model. The story has no traction except for commentators like myself.

The silence and delays have not been good for the Linden Centre’s staff. In October 13 The Age reported on claims that gallery staff were bullied into quitting. The silence and delays have not been good for Paul Yore. The silence and delays have not been good for the public who desperately want a resolution to the long running art censorship debate in Australian culture. There have been glum expressions around Melbourne’s art world for the last half-year whenever Paul Yore’s name is mentioned. Bill Henson was in Sydney and was already a big name but Paul is in the same position of many of Melbourne’s artists. Glum expressions are not what Yore’s art is about; it is funny, irreverent and ribald. The silence and delays only assists the retreat of the conservative forces and a petty right-wing troll who is seeking to destroy the Linden Centre.

Back in the crowded courtroom number of 7 of Melbourne Magistrates Court the 3 rows of seats were full. The magistrate was trying to keep cases moving, there were adjournments and more diversion orders. Slowly the seats were emptying and the journalists were getting restless. Court adjourned and the media finally finds out that Paul Yore’s case has been delayed until 10th of January 2014.

After half a year of waiting for a resolution to the police raid and we can only speculate at the reasons for the delays. It only took the NSW Police two months in 2008 after they raided Bill Henson’s exhibition to return the photographs without laying any charges.

(For more on the Paul Yore case see my post: Police Raid Gallery and Political Motivation Behind Police Raid.)


Police Raid Art Gallery

The facts: Victorian Police have raided St Kilda’s Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts and removed work by artist, Paul Yore. No charges have been laid. (See The Age and the Port Phillip Leader.)

The artist: Paul Yore is winner of $8000 Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award 2013. Last year he was exhibited at the NGV’s Atrium at Federation Square. There is an interview with him from last year, along with un-pixelated photographs of his art in Desktop.

The gallery, St Kilda’s Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, is one of Melbourne’s oldest council funded art galleries with a reputation for quality exhibitions. It is well known for its annual post-card exhibition. I have no doubt that the curatorial team had appropriate warnings (warnings are so commonplace now in exhibitions).

The exhibition, “Like Mike” is a homage to Australian artist Mike Brown.

The curators of the exhibition are Jan Duffy and Geoff Newton. Jan Duffy is an experienced curator as is Geoff Newton who is a well known as the director of Neon Parc gallery. Geoff Newton, from my knowledge of him and his work, is a man who seriously wants to advance art.

It is not clear exactly who the complainants are. The newspapers quote an “Adrian Jackson a Middle Park resident” and “Port Phillip resident Chris Spillane”. Chris Spillane is a Liberal Party candidate for the local council accused of racism. Adrian Jackson is ex-Australian Army, a want-to-be politician who has run as an independent candidate, who was expelled from the Liberal Party in 2003. Given their backgrounds Jackson and Spillane don’t appear to be the usual gallery visitors. (For more on their motivations see my recent post, Political Motivations Behind Police Raid.)

Local Port Phillip City Council members, Councillor Andrew Bond an independent and a former church youth group leader, has called the exhibition “obscene” and compared it to hardcore pornography.

This story is more about the ambitions of certain people involved in local politics creating a controversy to be noticed and the Victorian Police being unable to learn from the experiences of their NSW counterparts with the raids on Bill Henson and Juan Davila’s exhibitions. This is yet another sorry and pathetic part in the story of Australian censorship. (See my 2008 post: More Art Censorship as events are likely to play out in the same way.)


J.B. Greuze – I spit on your grave

Unless you know what you hate you cannot understand what you love. You can’t turn you attention away from what you hate, you have to study it, understand it, even to delight in your passionate hatred. When I saw J.B. Greuze’s headstone in Montmartre cemetery, I wanted to dance on his grave, I wanted to spit on his grave – instead I took a photograph of it. It is awful like his art, adorned with a bronze statue modelled from his painting, “The Broken Pitcher”. This kitsch addition to his tomb reminds me of J.B. Greuze’s worst painting and exactly why it is so awful.

J.B. Greuze's grave in Montmartre cemetery

It is not that J.B. Greuze (1725-1805) is a bad painter; at one time he was regarded as the best painter in the world. Denis Diderot praised him for paintings that “arouse in our hearts hatred of vice and a love of virtue.” (Quoted in Eliza Pollard, Boucher and Greuze, 1904, p. 44) but the critics soon came to their senses. It is Greuze’s subject matter that is disgusting; the loss of virginity in a metaphor as crude as a broken pitcher is just awful. Greuze painted other domestic tragedies with allusions to loss virginity. The hypocrisy of hectoring with a painting espousing virtue with intentions that are basically sordid might have fooled some deluded people for a while but it couldn’t last.

Considering J.B. Greuze’s concentration on images pubescent girls in comparison to the photographs of Bill Henson. I realize that Henson’s neutral moral view in his photographs disturbs some people because it forces the moral interpretation back on the viewer. The kind of people who find Henson’s photographs disgusting lack the ability to make moral judgements themselves and want others to provide moral dictates. Greuze’s moral position is clear, he looks at a young woman who has lost her virginity as ruined; I hate him for being a willing proponent of this kind of thinking. He is the 18th century equivalent of the kind of warning used in advertisements about teenage alcohol abuse.

Virtues may well a reflection of a cultures values but that doesn’t mean that all of the values are ethical, coherent or desirable for all times. Espousing virtuous sentiments are too often a mask for a lack of any core ethical behaviour; J.B. Greuze’s paintings have the feel of a pious priest who sexual abuses children.

I can understand that once people were fooled by Greurze’s paintings. But I can’t understand why J.B. Greuze still has followers who still leave flowers on his grave, why does anyone still like his art? Was it some half-crazed, cloistered, post-graduate student of art history who had to express admiration for the artist?

I don’t hate many artists as completely as I hate J.B. Greuze; I also hate Ellsworth Kelly but for completely different reasons, mostly for the waste of my energy walking past his enormously large and vacuous paintings.


Explosion in a Rococo Allusion

Lisa Young’s vision is of the baroque/rococo world exploding, like the painting of unstable architectural fantasies by Monsù Desiderio (1593-c.1644). There is a hyper-rococo exuberance about her lines; they look like the doodles that have suddenly become masterpieces. At a distance the image doesn’t make any sense, just a dynamic movement of lines and close up you are consumed by the details. The fantastically detailed lines are like the overblown apocalyptic detail of comic book explosions, except that Young knows when not to draw everything. In Young’s images the detail is more evocative than illustrative. Amid all the wonderful intense lines it is the absence of detail that makes these images, the parts that have been left out. It is like reflections in rippling water at the point of disintegration.

Sarah Scout presents Lisa Young “Big World”, a small exhibition of digital prints. Sarah Scout is an upstairs gallery on Crossley Street (in the same building that in the 1850s the landscape painter, Eugene von Guerard, lived and worked). Lisa Young started her art career in Adelaide but is now based in Melbourne.

Young created the digital prints by combining traced images of so much baroque and rococo (or late-baroque) ornamental detail. The digital prints have been hand colored – the hand coloring is kind of minimal, again just fragments, the white on white paper, or small patches of pale color.

The Rococo is an ornate grotto decorated with shells (and “Grotto” is a title of the one of Young’s images). Another one of Young’s titles refers to the French Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

Transformation is at the heart of the baroque vision, it is a world that is unsettled and in motion – a world not unlike our own. It is vision of over the top splendor and amplified emotions. If I wanted to expand to write about other baroque influences in current art exhibitions I wouldn’t have to look any further than the Bill Henson exhibition at Tolarno Gallery. Henson’s neo-baroque vision is more somber than Young’s rococo exhuberence but the feeling of unsettling mysterious change is the same. Henson captures this in the look in the eyes of the woman turn away from Rembrandt’s painting “The return of the Prodigal Son”; and in another photograph with Rembrandt’s “Danaë” floating like a nimbus above the people in the museum and again the face of a woman looking away. Henson’s photographs are less ornamental and decorative than Lisa Young’s digital prints but the awareness and mystery of transformative experience haunts them with neo-baroque sensibilities.


Art @ Monash Medical Centre

Standing in one of the many corridors in the Monash Medical Centre Clayton with the curator, Rebecca Lovitt trying to look at the paintings in the hospital collection as cleaners working around us, patients and staff walking past I understand what a challenging environment this is to curate. The curator, Rebecca Lovitt is stoic as she shows me a frame scratched by a cleaning trolley and she remains calm when we discover a new pencil-sized hole in another canvas. “It is surviving well,” she tells me as she inspects the damage that would have sent other curators into a spiral of panic, “considering the amount of traffic that it experiences.”

A hospital is a difficult place to curate: the lights in the hospital are on 24 hours a day, the public corridors where most of the art is exhibited are extremely busy not just with people but equipment and simple wall repairs and repainting may take years to be carried out. It is also a vast space to curate; Southern Health is spread across 6 sites, the largest of which is the Monash Medical Centre at Clayton. And everything is, naturally, of greater priority than the hospital’s art collection.

Monash Medical Centre Art Gallery is registered as an art gallery for tax and administrative purposes so that people can donate or loan art to the hospital’s collection. A hospital does need an art collection, the paintings makes the long corridors less soulless. The art provides a distraction, a point of reflection, something else to think about other than being in a hospital.

And a curator is needed to look after the permanent collection, search for funding and donations, curate temporary exhibitions, assist in building the collection, de-accessioning work in the collection and working with the artist-in-residence, Efterpi Soropos to create a multimedia installation in the palliative care unit. Rebecca Lovitt is a curator without a gallery; she has worked in commercial galleries before and has no intention of returning, the challenge of exhibiting art in a hospital is far more appealing. And she is working on strategies to better display, protect and more easily rotate the collection – the installation of hanging rails has removed the need to repaint walls. Creating designated zones for art with recesses in the walls for the security of the art and the safety of patients. She has been working with architects on the new Dandenong Emergency Room to put art on ceiling.

There is no shortage of wall space along the hospital’s long corridors and most of the collection is on public exhibition. There is so much wall space that Rebecca Lovitt has been able to create an “Art Space” for temporary exhibitions with hanging rails and track lighting in one of the small lobbies. When I visited Melchior Martin was exhibiting a series of bold dynamic landscape paintings, five of which had sold.

Although the priority is in on public display in the corridors and wards senior medical staff and administrators need to have art in their offices that they like. And a hospital’s art collection does needs champions in the senior medical and administrative staff to ensure that it is not completely ignored.

Some of the hospitals departments are better funded for their art collection like the children’s cancer ward and the new heart centre. I see a new work for the heart centre on Rebecca Lovitt’s desk, a yet unframed embroidery work by Melbourne craft artist, Sayraphim Lothian.

Most of the hospital’s collection dates from the late 1980s, when the Monash Medical Centre was built. They are large paintings with thick heavy brushstrokes of paint by emerging local artists, none of them were famous at the time but now that has changed for a very few, most of the artists in the collection are not. We walk past one of the two Bill Henson photographs in the collection. The collection needs to be diverse to suite the taste of a diverse staff and public at the hospital. Some of the collection was inherited from the Prince Henry and Queen Victoria hospitals including a series of watercolours from 1910, the “Cheer Up Children Paintings” that may be earliest paintings made especially for a children’s ward.

I’m not recommending a trip to the hospital to see the art but to consider public art collections outside of galleries and the important role of curators in managing those collections.

 


Chilling Effect Continues

Hospital charity rejects exhibition over boy photo” Nick O’Malley reports in The Age (January 5, 2011) that “officials of the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation took exception to the image by Archibald prize-winner Del Kathryn Barton of her six-year-old son, Kell.” Over a year and a half later the chill of the Bill Henson censorship fiasco continues to effect Australian art and culture. This might appear like a storm in a teacup but it is a clear example of the chilling effect. It is hard to observe the chilling effect because it is, generally, not doing something out of fear. In this rare example, not being the recipients of a charity exhibition due to fear of controversy, the chilling effect is evident.

The officials at the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation are not prudes they are just protective of the reputation of their foundation. They have no way of knowing if this image would have been controversial because what was apparent in the Henson fiasco was that it was an arbitrary action and an arbitrary judgment. Another charity, Midnight Basketball, which runs workshops and tournaments for at-risk youth, will benefit from this charity exhibition.

This stupid and pathetic affair is only an example of the chilling effect, most will not be observed or documented. Although the rejection will not chill Del Kathryn Barton who will continue to use images of her own children in her art, as she has regularly in the past, the continuing fear of controversy will effect the decisions of other artists, curators, and exhibition sponsors.

In his story Nick O’Malley provides a history of this controversy; that Christian groups have been attacking artworks and prompting failed police actions for decades. In order to remedy this chilling effect the government needs to clarify laws and make an apology for its participation in slandering Bill Henson. In the absence of any move to ameliorate the situation a presumption that the government tacitly supports the chilling effects of trial by media and police raids.


Witch-hunts & Pogroms

Witch-hunts and pogroms are not confined to medieval times but occur with monotonous regularity today. The form of the witch-hunt is similar with a number of clear elements. I will compare two local contemporary witch-hunts the attacks against Bill Henson and the claims of ritual satanic abuse (mostly from the 1990s). 

One organization, Bravehearts, will appear in both witch-hunts.

At the start of the witch-hunt the agitators, who are devout Christians, repeat an old slanderous and salacious story in a current context. There is popular enthusiasm for the story due to long-term and short-term economic and political pressures. The story is then repeated and amplified by the media and politicians.

The story of ritual satanic abuse has a long history dating back to the blood libel of medieval tradition, the new twist was using ‘repressed memories’. Sensational media stories from the USA were copied and repackaged for an Australian audience. Senator Bill Heffernan, better known for his unfounded attacks against High Court Judge Justice Kirby, and New South Wales MP Franca Arena repeated these stories and drew more media attention. The ritual satanic abuse hysteria has been likened to witch hysteria by Edward Ogden in his thesis for Advanced Studies in Criminology “Satanic Cults: Ritual Crime Allegations and the False Memory Syndrome’ (University of Melbourne, 1993).

The story of an artist having sexual relations with their models is also a very old story. Sensationalised stories about artists and underage nude models have previously appeared in the USA with attacks on photographers Jock Sturges, amongst others. And so the attack on Bill Henson followed a model copied from US media and Christian organizations.

The Australian organization Bravehearts has been involved in both Bill Henson controversy and allegations of ritual satanic abuse. Bravehearts don’t have a reputation for dishonesty, but they should have as their members have consistently tried to fuel witch-hunts. In 2005 the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) sued Dr Michaelson, who runs Bravehearts Victoria, for claiming that it conducts ritual satanic abuse. The terms of settlement from the Victorian Civil And Administrative Tribunal state that: “Dr Michaelson has not produced any proof that OTO members are or have been involved in such practices.”

The subjects of allegations are generally successful, upper middle class men. These men appear to be ordinary respectable members of society. But, it is alleged; behind closed doors they abuse children. It is further alleged that these men are protected in by a vast evil conspiracy (Satanists or the arts elite) further enhancing their power. Targeting upper-middle class men who have some power, or at least success, in society is evidence that the intention of the allegation is a grab for power.

Other examples of subjects of such allegations drearily come to mind: Jews in Nazi Germany or Tsarist Odessa; communists in the Cold War, and the unsubstantiated allegations of sodomy against Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, although in this case the accusers are devout Moslems whom I’m sure have a similar morality to their Christian brothers and sisters.

Encouraged by politicians and the media police, mob or military violence is taken against the subjects of allegations. Subsequent investigation finds no physical evidence to support any of the allegations. However by then irreparable damage may have already been done.

What is frightening is that very little is learnt in the aftermath of these witch-hunts. The same people, especially the politicians, who expressed enthusiasm for taking action against Bill Henson would have, in other times, expressed enthusiasm for witch-hunts and pogroms. Their irrational beliefs make them a stupid and brutal force that can easily be manipulated.

Bibliography:

Richard Guilliatt, Talk of the Devil, Repressed Memory & the Ritual Abuse Witch-Hunt (Melbourne, 1996)


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