Bill Henson’s big new show at the NGV is an atmospheric installation of nudes, landscapes and museums images. The presentation is of large prints in the same size and format, all subdued in tone and hung on black walls. It gets you as soon as you step in.
As an exhibition it feels surprisingly unified and whole despite the differences in subjects, it coheres like music, the changes subsumed the overall tone or timbre. Going by the solemn attention given to it by my students and other visitors, the show will establish him with a younger public and with those who may have been disturbed by the 2008 panic.
One thing, the NGV has chosen to mount this show in what is normally the academy hall, where 18th and 19th century salon paintings normally hang. As an exhibition of 21st century photographs it disrupts the room-to-room flow of historical paintings, but its fin-de-siécle style relates well to the Pre-Raphaelite and academy paintings in the adjacent room.
“The images in this exhibition are drawn from a body of works created between 2008 and 2011 and continue Henson’s sensitive, sophisticated study of the human condition, which he has realised over his forty year career.”
A powerful sense of mystery and ambiguity can be found within the images, heightened by the velvet-like blackness of the shadows and the striking use of chiaroscuro to selectively obscure and reveal the form of the nudes, sculptures and the landscape itself.” (NGV)