The light fades but the gods remain

Bill Henson - photo by Luis PowerA major exhibition showcasing two key series by one of Australia’s most eminent artists, Bill Henson, Monash Gallery of Art (MGA) presents The light fades but the gods remain from 27 July 2019.

In celebration of MGA’s 25th anniversary, Bill Henson was commissioned to revisit the suburb of his childhood, Glen Waverley, and to produce a new body of work that reflects upon his earlier series Untitled 1985-86, known by many as ‘the suburban series’.

This is a ground-breaking commission for MGA and offers an unparalleled insight into one of Australia’s most revered artists, as he revisits the landscape of his childhood to explore the notion of home, intensifying the everyday to a point of dramatic revelation and romantic beauty.

“The commission is a unique undertaking. Asking Bill Henson, one of Australia’s most revered artists, to revisit the place of his childhood has resulted in series that provides rare insight into his practice,” says Anouska Phizacklea, MGA Director. “As the majority of Australians grow up in suburbia, the new body of work speaks to a shared history, harking back to childhood, and capturing something of Australia’s national identity, our sense of place, belonging and home.”

Together, the two series, from the 1980s and today, offer insight into the notion of mortality, which Henson investigates through his inimitable lens. The initial series featured the burgeoning city of Glen Waverley, in sequences interspersed with portraits and ruminations on foreign lands.

The new works, produced more than three decades later, comprise eleven photographs that are a deeply reflective and psychologically charged response to the suburb where Henson spent his childhood and adolescence. Seen for the first time at MGA, these works explore universal themes of loss and mourning that touch us all.

“In the new works, it is as though the sun is sinking on an empire that humanity has all but abandoned,” says Pippa Milne, MGA Senior Curator. “Henson has not disturbed the sense of gathering dusk that began in 1985–86. In fact, he has intensified it, parsing it through a grammar of memory and melancholy, meshing a net to capture it.”

The commissioned works will enter the MGA collection, complementing the holdings of 12 works from the 1985–86 series. The July exhibition will draw these two series together.

“Over a period of several years I came to understand that what I wanted to capture and hold on to was a place which no longer existed,” says Bill Henson. “The possibility of photographing the landscape of memory and in so doing return to the ‘lost domain’ of childhood seemed both beguiling and yet so unlikely.”

The fact of these photographs, and of them having been made in the last two years and yet in them the depiction of a place which ceased to exist fifty years before, must surely be an impossibility.”

“Nevertheless, I’m always hoping there just might be something ‘impossible’ about a picture – some profound ‘unlikeliness’ that documents both the world of the imagination and our shared, physical world. Perhaps it’s only through searching for this that we might draw closer to some deeper sense of continuity,” he added.

After his childhood in Glen Waverley and studying at Prahran College, Bill Henson had his first solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1975 at the age of 19. He has since exhibited extensively in Australia and overseas, including New York, London, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Montreal, Barcelona, Vienna and Amsterdam. In 1995 Henson represented Australia at the Venice Biennale, with his celebrated series of cut-screen photographs.

In 2003 Henson’s work appeared in Strangers: the first ICP triennial of photography and video at the International Center of Photography in New York. In the same year he had a solo exhibition at the Centro de Fotografia, University of Salamanca, Spain. In 2005 a comprehensive survey of his work was held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

This landmark survey show, titled Mnemosyne attracted record visitor numbers for a contemporary art exhibition in Australia and was accompanied by the substantial and important publication by the same name. In 2006 Henson exhibited a major body of work in Twilight: photography in the magic hour at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of NSW.


The light fades but the gods remain
Monash Gallery of Art, 860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Exhibition: 27 July – 29 September 2019
Free entry

For more information, visit: www.mga.org.au for details.

Image: Bill Henson, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney – photo by Luis Power

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