The Henson Case: Art and Panic

David Marr
13 October, 2008

Why you should listen

David Marr

The Henson art controversy of May 2008 had it all: provocative photographs, police investigations, celebrity involvement, child pornography accusations, art censorship and political intrigue. Here, The Sydney Morning Herald journalist and author of The Henson Case, David Marr reveals the untold story behind the removal, from a Sydney gallery, of a collection of photographer Bill Henson’s images of children plus the ensuing controversy, which would change the course of Australian art forever. In this highly charged lecture, which drew one of the largest crowds at Sydney Ideas for 2008, Marr looks at how this small art collection was able to draw the wrath of the most senior politician in Australia, and the personal toll of covering such a contentious issue. He also asks – and tries to answer – some significant questions about censorship and art. What impact will this controversy have on artistic freedom? Is it just a matter of taste? And why is it now that these pictures have caused so much panic? “The tabloid rage that has erupted has been supported and indeed capped by the Prime Minister’s verdict that this man’s work and his methods are ‘revolting’,” states Marr. “This has never happened before.” David Marr, an accomplished commentator, is a former reporter for ABC-TV’s Four Corners and one-time presenter of ABC-TV’s Media Watch. He is also an award-winning author and his books include Dark Victory and Patrick White: A Life. Marr’s unflinching account of the Henson art controversy - The Henson Case – includes interviews with the main players in the case, including members of the NSW police force, child abuse campaigners and leading figures in the arts community including Cate Blanchett.

“The rallying cry of those people who are perturbed and scared for the fate of children is ‘Let kids be kids.’ I think the challenge that’s facing [us] at the moment, is whether adults have to be kids as well.“ David Marr at Sydney Ideas