Bill Henson: Tame!
Robert Miller Gallery, NYC
After Australian photographer Bill Henson's recent show in his homeland in which images of naked adolescents were seized from the wall and the show was shut down, I was expecting a controversial reception here in New York. With our economy in shatters, no one put up a fuss. But why should they? This show is a beautiful, formal exhibit of powerful and pleasing images. There is nothing shocking or offensive. Instead it is a show of a mature artist presenting well-crafted and sensuous photographs.
Henson's twenty-three large color photographs (50' x 70') are a mix of landscapes, architecture, and figures with a few compelling still lifes thrown in. The presentation is quite elegant and fills the expansive gallery nicely. All of the images are all shown mixed together, not separated out. This placement accentuates the formal qualities of the works and creates a visual dialogue amongst the images. Subject matter seems less important than formal characteristics.
The show is really about light and lighting. The subjects are either dark and dusky landscapes suggesting the mystery of the twilight hours or dramatic figures and still lifes that employ chiaroscuro. Although the work is reminiscent of master 16th century painters, the images also resemble stills from a film noir. In many of the portraits, the eyes are closed or looking away, they are rarely confronting the viewer. What I was most struck by in the figures was the rich variations in skin tones, and the intensity of seeing the blood vessels, kind of like high definition TV with dramatic lighting. This show is definitely worth a look.