Saturday, October 18, 2008

Art Critic Benjamin Genocchio Makes Poor Choices About Controversial Photographer

Untitled #8 by Bill Henson

I have to disagree with the art critic Benjamin Genocchio concerning the Bill Henson controversy in Australia. In my opinion, Genocchio made some poor choices in his recent article about the steps that the photographer has taken in order to avoid a similar controversy at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. The exhibit is Henson’s first exhibit since his troubles in Sydney. Apparently the artist has decided against showing some of his more graphic nude images of young teens. Instead, the Bill Henson exhibit at Robert Miller Gallery is set up more like a mini-retrospective displaying examples of his work from the last decade.

Benjamin Genocchio is apparently disappointed by Henson’s decision to censor himself. In the article he stated that Henson’s work exploring early teenage sexuality is not “all that controversial”. The art critic went on to say that teenage sexuality, “exists, get over it, let’s move on”. Apparently Mr. Genocchio is not aware that part of the Bill Henson controversy in Australia is connected to the fact that the photographer had toured, some have described it as “prowled”, a school in order to find potential models for his future work. The news of Henson’s visit to the school-- which was supervised by the former principal of the school-- outraged some parents and alarmed the Australian academic community. Not mentioning that aspect of the controversy was the first poor choice that Genocchio made in reporting about Henson.

In his article Genocchio mentioned a recent exhibit of Andres Serrano’s work at the gallery involving feces . I can only assume that the art critic mentioned Serrano’s work in order to defend the validity of Bill Henson’s practice and to project the idea that people should have been more outraged at the Serrano exhibit than Henson‘s current exhibit at the gallery. There is a difference that the art critic is missing that is at the root of this controversy. To put it bluntly, Serrano used his own feces-- he did not visit a school in order to observe fecal matter in student restrooms.

Genocchio then compared the recent Bill Henson controversy to the controversy that involved the late Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs of graphic homosexual sex that had been exhibited at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center in 1990, which resulted in an obscenity trial. Again, there is a difference that the art critic is missing. Mapplethorpe’s photographs did not involve touring schools without the knowledge of parents in order to discover potential models amongst children.

Henson has stated that if he observes a child of interest he will contact the parents of the child in order to ask permission to photograph the child nude. The artist has went on to say that some parents refuse while others are thrilled to see their children involved with his work. Perhaps Bill Henson should allow parents to contact him instead of visiting schools in search of potential models? Perhaps Bill Henson should reveal documentation that proves that he has had parental permission for every young nude model that he has photographed due to the information that has been exposed in Australia? Is it wrong for parents to allow their children to be photographed in the nude? Maybe. I’m sure these questions will continue to be debated as they should be.

I suppose the choice of being photographed by Henson is up to the children and their parents to decide. That is the key issue over this controversy-- choice. The parents who have children at that school should have been aware of Henson’s visit. They should have been allowed to make a choice about the issue. Bill Henson is a world renowned photographer, but that does not mean his practice is above concern nor does it mean that his practice is above the choice of parents in issues involving their children. Especially when one considers the times in which we live. In my opinion, Benjamin Genocchio made some bad choices in his article by not mentioning these issues.

For those who don’t know, Benjamin Genocchio is a former chief art critic for The Australian and is currently an art critic for the New York Times.

Benjamin Genocchio's article about Bill Henson:
Artist tries to avoid Big Apple controversy
[The Australian]
Links of Interest:
Henson publisher linked to school [The Australian]
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

Attacking the ethics of Shepard Fairey, defending muslim artists against censorship, and now you are taking a spear to Genochhio! You are getting some bite kid.

Anonymous said...

this article is offensive, pejorative and inflammatory... If you think this man is a pedophile (the implication) please state it... you my friend are hiding behind syntax because you have no balls

Balhatain said...

Anon #2, I think "this man", Bill Henson, should not have visited a school in order to scout for potential models. Schools are not designed to be used as a model service and a principal should not behave like an agent. Visiting a school for that purpose was not the best choice for either professional to make.

You have to remember that Bill Henson is to blame for Bill Henson's recent troubles. This situation proves that art world celebrity does not make one above the rules. Even he admits visiting the school was not the best decision based on what I've read.

People have a right to be concerned about what happened at that school even if it was perfectly innocent. Being innocent does not make it right. Thus, I think Genocchio should have mentioned that aspect of the controversy.

I don't see this as an issue attacking artists rights as some other writers have claimed. I see it as an issue of responsibility.Henson has been in the game for a long time. He should have known better than to step foot on school grounds regardless of his good intentions.

Since you feel so strongly about this issue perhaps you can post with your name instead of hiding behind 'anonymous'. My name is on the entry. My name is Brian Sherwin. By implication of your words you feel that my words define my strength as a person. You suggest, "no balls", that I am a coward. If that is the case you must truly be a weak person for having not backed your words with your identity.

PhotoBiz said...

Bill Henson made a huge mistake by going to that school. Thanks for pointing that out because I did not know about that. BG sidestepped it for some reason. So why is it inflammatory to point that out? The art critic failed to inform his readers about the school visit. If Bill Henson was a unknown photographer people would not be defending him like this. If he was not famous photographer people would be asking what he was thinking and how long his activity had gone on at schools!

Anonymous said...

i am not a member of this site and access through another...

oh i am hiedroom...

a poor choice is fine we all make them ... but you are implying that this man fucks children not that his choices were poor...

thats what this is really about

Balhatain said...

Heidroom, you can us the Name/URL option if you want. You can post as Heidroom that way instead of anonymous if you choose. Back to the debate…

I'm implying that I think Benjamin Genocchio made a poor choice by not providing information about Henson’s controversial school visit in his article defending the photographer. Thus, he did not consider one of the main reasons Henson has been under fire lately in the press and in Australia.

If Henson is viewed negatively in the US it will most likely be due to the school issue in Australia. Which is why I think it was a poor choice for the art critic to leave out that information. He also writes for the New York Times so I assume the same article was posted or printed by them.

I’ll stand by what I said. I think it was a poor choice for Genocchio to not mention that information. I also think it was a poor choice for him to try and compare Henson’s controversy to Serrano and Mapplethorpe since neither of those controversy’s involved the artist touring a school for personal reasons.

The school issue is at the heart of the Henson controversy now. It is not an issue of the artist having his rights violated-- it is an issue of the artist failing to use common sense. Perhaps he felt he was above regulations due to his prestige?

If I remember correctly you are from the UK, right? It could just be a difference in how people view Henson’s “school scouting” based on where they are from. The US has tight rules about who can step foot on school grounds and for what purpose.

If this had happened in the US I think Henson and the principal would have been in hotter water than they already are. The principal would have most likely been fired over the issue and Henson would have probably had to have shown documentation proving that he had parental consent for his entire body of work involving young nude models due to the outrage.

If it had happened in the US I doubt very much that Henson would have been allowed to leave the country until the investigation was over-- and depending on the outcome of the investigation.

I’m not implying what you suggest, but given the times in which we live I can see why people suspect the worst. You have to take into account that there is a debate going on about the intentions and merit of Henson‘s photographs involving young nude teens. You also have to take into account that many child protection organizations and parent groups strive to make works like Henson’s illegal due the fact that some of the nude models are as young as 12 years old. In that sense Henson is asking for controversy regardless if he wants it or not.

I see nothing wrong with debating on whether these photographs are innocent or if they can be considered exploitation of minors-- and of their parents considering the fame of Henson. I see nothing wrong with pointing out information that an art critic failed to provide his readership. I see nothing wrong with debating about the responsibility of artists. Where should the lines be drawn?

I understand that you are concerned that Henson will end up censored again or that he may be forced to change his practice in order to ward off future controversy. Perhaps you feel that all artists should support Henson during this controvery. However, I don't think the answer to that is to censor debate about the artist-- as well as the controversy surrounding him-- by implying that the concern people have over the school issue is not warranted or that my article is somehow a hit job against the artist and the critic.

DONALD freaking FRAZELL, fool said...

Way to castrate the self absorbed eunuch above, I post my name, want to make something of it? Here in the LBC we love our children, make most of them into pro athletes, and rappers. And take no shit about messing with them, get beatdowns for far less.

Rights are always in conflict, thats why we have judges. In this case, the rights of the child far outway the rights of the self expressive, which is vain self absorbed fetishes, not art.

Except perhaps in Australia. No way would the perv be allowed at Poly HS, of course, the kids would kick his ass here anyway, never worried when I sent my kids off on AAU ball trips, researched the coaches, knew them, most with NBA and shoe company connections. The kids fiery anyway, would mess up anyone who would try to touch them, even in elementary school. Plenty of gangstas even at that age who dont take kindly to pervs.

Those other people photographed adults, not kids in ewird adult like situations and poses. No kid thinks or feels like that, unless a future perve himself. Can you relate, manAnd so is a perversion of truth. Of life. And most certainly NOT art. But a sick fetish. But do like the pics Dion earlier posted by Lewis Carroll. They were sweet, and interestingly true. But over a hundred years ago when he would have been strung up, rightly so, for doing kiddie porn.

Art collegia delenda est

Balhatain said...

Anon #1, I can sharpen my teeth when needed. :P

josephbolstad said...

I wonder how the models themselves, and their parents, feel about all this. Although Henson's school visits were inappropriate, they evidently did generate some willing participants.

Balhatain said...


As I've said... perhaps Henson should allow parents to come to him instead of actively searching for young models at schools. He could have avoided this aspect of the controversy if he had done that.

One article stated that the boy he 'discovered' at the school is now 'destroyed' emotionally due to the controversy. Which to me says that perhaps the boy was not mature enough emotionally to be involved with Henson's work in the first place.

The parents of the models all support Henson's work with their children. However, other parents were upset when they discovered that Henson had visited the school in order to scout for models.

I will stand by my position---parents don't send their children to school in order for the school to be used as an alternative model agency ran by the principal. It is as simple as that.

I don't think the principal or Henson had ill intentions during the visit. However, it was inappropriate. The fact that Henson found willing participants does not matter. Again, he should allow parents to come to him instead of scouting for young models at a school.

Henson has been in the game a long time. He had to have known better. The principal must have known better as well. It was a very foolish thing to do from a professional standpoint.

Anonymous said...

I am a child myself. Its true Bill Henson shuld not have used his underage subjects with a defence of "artistic purpose". But who gave permission for this to occur in the first place? Their parents! I find them as digusting and vile as the predators who vewied these photographs, they id not consider the outcome whatsoever.