Art Monthly Australia

The 2008 Bill Henson hysteria led to a protest by ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA in which they published an image of a child on their cover.

Predictably, this was also controversial. After being ‘called-in’, the magazine was classified Unrestricted (M15+).

Art Monthly Australia

Publisher Art Monthly Australia Ltd / Australia

In May 2008, the NSW Police raided the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Paddington and seized photography by Bill Henson.

May 23, 2008
Police have seized numerous items as part of an investigation launched into art works displayed at an exhibition in Paddington.

About 2pm yesterday, police received a report from a concerned member of the public about the nature of the work displayed at the gallery on Hampden Street. Several other complaints have since been reported.

Officers from Rose Bay Local Area Command have conducted extensive investigations into the complaints, with assistance from detectives with the State Crime Command’s Child Protection and Sex Crimes Squad.

Officers executed a search warrant at the premises this morning, and have since seized more than 20 works from the 41 piece series.

The images are believed to depict a child under the age of 16. Police are currently investigating the possible prosecution of offences regarding the act of publish indecent article under the Crimes Act.

Police are yet to speak with all parties involved with the exhibition, and are unable to speculate on an outcome at this early stage of the investigation.

Inquiries are continuing.

– Police seize numerous art works – Paddington
– NSW Police

Passed as PG

The controversial pictures of a naked girl were sent to the Classification Board, who awarded them PG-ratings.

June 6, 2008
It’s official. The picture of the naked girl that sparked the Bill Henson fuss is not pornography.

The sight of her on an invitation to the photographer’s Sydney exhibition two weeks ago provoked shock and outrage, but the Classifications Board has now declared the picture “mild” and safe for many children.

Yesterday the Herald also learned that the Director of Public Prosecutions was on the verge of advising NSW police that any prosecution of Henson was unlikely to succeed. In Canberra, Federal Police also announced that no charges would be laid over photographs in the Australian National Gallery.

The Henson affair appears close to collapse.

Since then, Henson photographs have been removed from the walls of two regional NSW galleries and impounded at the National Gallery. Stacks of the invitation, along with copies of Art World, a new magazine containing Henson images, have also been seized by NSW police.

But the Classification Board, under its new chief, former ABC head Donald McDonald, is far less troubled by Henson’s work. Earlier this week it cleared five images – four of them had been partly censored – and it has now given the young girl on the invitation a rating of PG.

The picture came to the board for classification when it was found in a blog discussing pornography and the sexualisation of children. The classifiers found the “image of breast nudity … creates a viewing impact that is mild and justified by context … and is not sexualised to any degree”.

While a minority of the board thought the impact of the picture was “moderate”, none of the classifiers called for any restriction on its display.

– Henson photo not porn says censor
article @

Olympia Nelson cover

Just as the moral panic about Bill Henson’s pictures was dying down, the July 2008 issue of ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA appeared featuring Olympia Nelson. The cover-image of this six-year-old girl was done to protest against the recent controversy.

July 2008
To dream a child

Melbourne artist Polixeni Papapetrou, the artist of this month’s cover image, has also borne her share of censorship and moral outrage, particularly with the nude photographs of her daughter Olympia. ‘My criminality appears to rest on the notion that art has somehow supplanted my maternal duty’, she said earlier this year in an interview with Australian Centre of Photography Director Alasdair Foster. The transgression of the artist-mother – especially one who dares to ‘implicate’ her own child in the process – can cut deeper than any questions surrounding the male gaze as a domain for art and exploitation.

The choice of Papapetrou’s Olympia as Lewis Carroll’s Beatrice Hatch before WHITE CLIFFS (2003) for our cover may be seen as controversial but is made in the hope of restoring some dignity to the debate; to validate nudity and childhood as subjects for art; to surrender to the power of the imagination (in children and adults) and dialogue without crippling them through fear-mongering and repression.

There is, admittedly, a fair amount concerning sex and sexuality in this issue, apart from discussions of Henson’s work (and at the risk, perhaps, of distorting the nudity in Papapetrou’s image): from the celebrations of women in the work of Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki and Australian painter David Laity (who have both sparked controversy and divided their audiences) to the subject of Queer perspectives in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 30th anniversary exhibition Bent Western, and the critical ‘excavation’ of one of its artists, the late Arthur McIntyre. As Donald Brook argues, it should never be a question of art or pornography, but rather: ‘Should works of art enjoy a general indulgence, recognised in law, so that even culpably pornographic works of art like those on the walls of brothels in Pompeii may sometimes be tolerated?’

The past few weeks in Australia have certainly exposed just how timid and intolerant our society seems to have become, even while Henson is now free to show his work. The obvious parallels, in the extreme, are suggested by this issue’s inclusion of German painter Otto Dix, one of the Nazi’s ‘Degenerate’ artists, alongside Melbourne artist Sam Leach’s ‘self-portrait as a NAZI’, SELF IN UNIFORM (2007).

– Editorial by Maurice O’Riordan
– Art Monthly Australia No. 211

Government threats

The NSW Government noticed the controversy and submitted the issue to the Classification Board.

July 6, 2008
NSW community services minister Kevin Greene said the images had been inappropriately hijacked for political mileage.

“I will refer this to the ACB tomorrow, and the community also should let (the Board) know what they think,” Mr Greene told reporters in Sydney.

Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell labelled the publication a “provocative publicity stunt” and called for a review of Arts Council’s funding for the magazine.

He said the average parent faced strict regulation of photographing their children at school events, and would be frustrated by the actions of the magazine.

“I understand they are in receipt of funding from the Arts Council and I assume there are procedures where that can be reviewed by Mr Rudd and his ministers,” Mr O’Farrell said.

“I notice (Premier) Morris Iemma hasn’t ruled them out receiving state government funds in the future.

“The public are furious about the double standards, I think taxpayers are angry when they see funds used in this way and to review it, I think, would be sensible.”

– Magazine sent to classification board
article @

The PM can’t stand this stuff

July 6, 2008
CASSIDY: Just finally on top of the Bill Henson controversy, a taxpayer supported magazine has put a naked 6 year old girl this time on its cover, ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA. The editor said that he did it to restore some dignity to the debate, is that what it does?

PM: If you asking my personal view Barrie, no it doesn’t and it does the reverse. My view hasn’t changed on this. We are talking about the innocence of little children here. A little child cannot answer for themselves about whether they wish to be depicted in this way. I have very deep, strong personal views on this which is that we should be on about maximising the protection of children. I don’t think this is a step in the right direction at all.

CASSIDY: And it does seem to be a deliberately provocative act aimed directly at you?

PM: Who knows what the motivation is, but I’ve got to say my interest and the interest of many Australians. I think most Australians, is to protect little children and restore innocence to kids childhood. But I go back to the fundamental question: how can anyone assume that a little child of 6 years old, 8, 10, 12, somehow is able to make that decision for themselves? I mean, I don’t think they can. That’s just my view, and that’s why frankly, I can’t stand this stuff.

– Kevin Rudd (Labor) interview with Barrie Cassidy

Brendan Nelson calls the Police

July 7, 2008
Federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson says he will ask police to investigate whether an art magazine broke the law when it used a photograph of a naked six-year-old girl on its cover.

Using the photograph sent a “two-fingered salute” to the rest of Australia, Dr Nelson said today.

But Dr Nelson said the editors did not understand the way the images could be used by pedophiles.

“The use and sexualisation of children in this way is indefensible, whether in the name of art, parental consent or political protest,” he said.

“It is absolutely essential that we stand up to this. What these people have done in this publication and using the photographs of this child in this way is send a two-fingered salute to the rest of society.

“I will be asking the police authorities to investigate whether there is any breach of the law as it stands by publication of these photographs.

“It’s also obvious that there needs to be a review of the national classifications systems.”

Dr Nelson said there had been many ways in which children had been used by earlier generations that would not be defended today.

Dr Nelson said the use of naked children in art could not continue.

“And whilst it is very hard to define explicitly where it is appropriate or not appropriate to use children in this way, I think most Australians would accept this is not appropriate,” he said.

“And that the child concerned defends the photographs in my view merely compounds what has happened.”

– Nelson to go to police over nude photo

More from Prime Minister Rudd

July 8. 2008
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) ART MONTHLY, says she is offended by your comments. Is she too young to know the real issues here?

PM: As I said the other day. My attitude to this has not changed one bit. And that is, the protection of children and the innocence of children is of fundamental importance. Secondly, if people want to make a political point in opposition to me, I don’t think it is right they use under age children to make that point.

They can engage the political debate as much as they want, it is a free country. But when it comes to the protection of children, I say that should be a foremost responsibility for each of us and I add this: How can you credibly expect a six year old girl to have made their own independent decision about this matter in the beginning.

I go back to my point, we have a view about what constitutes, you know, a responsible time for people to take decisions for themselves. Children, I don’t think fit within that category.

– Kevin Rudd (Labor) interview at Fairbairn RAAF Base, Canberra

To be rated

July 10, 2008
The Classification Board has asked the art magazine which published a photo of a naked girl on its front cover to submit its publication for review.

The Attorney-General’s Department confirmed that the board’s director Donald McDonald had made the request.

Under the Classification Act, Mr McDonald can use special powers to “call in a publication for classification under certain circumstances … if the director has reasonable grounds to believe it is a submittable publication,” a department spokeswoman said.

“The director has formed the view that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the June edition of ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA is a submittable publication.”

Under the Act a submittable publication is one that is likely to be refused classification, could “cause offence to a reasonable adult to the extent that the publication should not be sold or displayed as an unrestricted publication”, or is unsuitable for a minor to see or read.

If the magazine is ultimately deemed unsuitable, it could be banned under the classification process.

– Classification board wants magazine

Rated Unrestricted (M15+)

On July 16 2008, the Classification Board awarded issue No. 211 of ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA an M (Not recommended for readers under 15 years) rating.

July 17, 2008
The board reviewed the entire July edition of the magazine and yesterday, in a split decision, gave it an M rating. It means the magazine is not recommended for readers under 15.

“The board notes that the images in this publication have been classified unrestricted within the specific context of the publication as a bona fide and serious vehicle for the discussion of the arts,” a spokeswoman said.

“The overall tone of the publication and the debate contained therein is considered to be serious and have genuine artistic and educational merit.

“The board notes that the images and text within the publication that relate to the ongoing debate about the difference between art and pornography and the sexualisation of children require a mature perspective.”

A minority on the board wanted to give the magazine a refused classification, meaning it would not be able to be sold, the spokeswoman said.

But that minority were split over what images, both on the cover, and inside, deserved the rating.

There were other graphic images within the magazine.

– Nude art mag gets over-15s rating

NSW Labor calls for more censorship

July 23, 2008
The nation’s classification laws are set to toughen following the furore over photographs of naked children depicted as art.

“Recent events have highlighted how concerned the community is about how children are represented in artworks and publications,” Minister for Community Services Kevin Greene said.

“Where there is a concern that an image of a child has been obtained inappropriately, or is displayed or publicised inappropriately, then some parts of the community want to see measures put in place that protect children.”

Mr Greene would bring the subject up today at a meeting of state and federal community services ministers.

And The Daily Telegraph understands Attorney-General John Hatzistergos had written to ministers responsible for censorship urging them to take action.

“I agree with the Attorney-General that the community would benefit from greater clarity and consistency in the rating of the display and publication of artworks,” Mr Greene said yesterday.

“I am not an art expert, but I am a father, and I am a member of a community that wants to see protection given not just to children, but to the notion of what childhood is.”

He said the public outrage following exposure of the Henson photos and the ensuing ART MONTHLY revealed the depth of concern.

– Art Monthly’s nude girl cover leads to tougher laws move

DFAT cancels subscription

In August, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) decided not to renew their subscription to ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA magazine. They denied the move had anything to do with the recent controversy.

August 8, 2008
In a move that will cost ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA about 200 copies a month and about $8000 in revenue a year, a DFAT official told editor Maurice O’Riordan the department was unlikely to ever renew its subscription.

While the department said the decision was the result of a general review of funding, O’Riordan yesterday said the timing was suspicious. The 200 copies represent almost 5 per cent of the magazine’s monthly sales of 4500.

“It’s a sizeable cut, in terms of the prestige of having the magazine going to embassies,” O’Riordan said.

Anthony Taylor, the director of DFAT’s Cultural Diplomacy Section, wrote to O’Riordan last month saying the department would “not be renewing our subscriptions to a number of magazines, including ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA”.

He said the department had already received and would pay for the magazine’s July issue that featured the Henson debate.

“However, we do not wish to receive any more magazines for the rest of this financial year,” Mr Taylor wrote. “Nor do we foresee, at this stage, that we will be renewing our subscription at a later date.”

Mr Taylor offered to put details of the magazine on the DFAT website in case any overseas missions wanted to subscribe “using their own funding allocations”.

The move is a blow to O’Riordan, who saw a small spike in circulation following last month’s issue.

But he said there had been no significant change in advertising volumes. “We lost some big full-page ads, mostly federal government bodies, but we picked up a lot of smaller ads as a show of support. so it balanced out,” the editor said.

In the latest edition of the magazine, O’Riordan defends the earlier cover as an “informed and rational response” to issues of censorship, nudity and consent”.

“A cheap stunt might have been to secure a provocative image by Henson for the cover, given that his offending works were all cleared by the Classification Board before we went to print,” he wrote in the editorial.

“But the issue is much bigger than Henson, as nuanced by our cover image and related articles. If anything, July’s cover image showed the potency of art in eliciting a diverse range of opinions on a subject of deep and far-reaching concern.”

– Provocative art magazine gets chop from DFAT’s razor gang

Barnett vs. Classification Board

In October 2008, Guy Barnett (Liberal) took some time off from pursuing SALÒ (1975) to focus on ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA.

October 20, 2008
Senator BARNETT —Mr Wilkins, I hope you are getting the sense that there is extreme concern shared by a number of senators on this side of the desk, on behalf of our constituents, in regard to how these matters are operating, and how they are being managed currently. It is not personal. Please do not take any of this personally. What we are doing is reflecting the concerns of our constituents.

Senator Wong—I am not sure that Senator McGauran’s saying, ‘You are up to something’ can be taken in any way other than personally, if you don’t mind me saying. I am not quite sure how one would not take that personally.

—He has expressed a whole range of views and concerns, and many of them are very strongly held. I know Senator McGauran is bona fide in his views and beliefs and that he holds them very firmly. I want to move to a specific example: ART MONTHLY. It was in the news, it is in the public arena, it has been drawn to your attention and it has been classified. Can you advise the committee, firstly, of the date when you were alerted to that document and, secondly, when you started the process to classify that magazine?

Ms Booyar —The director of the board wrote to the publisher on 8 July requiring the publisher to submit the July edition of ART MONTHLY for classification.

Senator BARNETT —When did you first become aware of the concerns regarding ART MONTHLY?

Ms Booyar —There were a number of media reports immediately prior to that, so it would have been in the days prior to that. It would have been around 6 or 7 July.

Senator BARNETT—So on the 6th or 7th of July you became aware of it and, as a result of that, you are advising the committee that the director of your board wrote to the publisher.

Ms Booyar —Yes, calling in the publication. ART MONTHLY usually would not be considered a submittable publication. But because the director had formed a reasonable view that it could be a submittable publication he is required to call it in for classification.

Senator BARNETT—Indeed. I think this is exactly one of the concerns that many senators and many constituents have: these publications are out there and they are unclassified until views are expressed of concern in the community, they come to the attention of your director and yourselves, and then you have called them in or you have written to them and said, ‘Please forward the publication.’

Ms Booyar —They are required to at that point. They cannot not submit them.

Senator McGAURAN —Senator Barnett, that is on one occasion. They are not as rigorous as they are making it sound to you.

Senator BARNETT—My point is that it is based on public concern. A lot of these publications are just out there, and perhaps the public’s concerns have not been made available to you or known to you, and yet these publications are out there which are indeed offensive or should be restricted or classified in some way. Does that make sense, and would that be correct?

Ms Booyar —I am not sure what your question is.

Senator BARNETT—Let me rephrase it. Are there publications that are distributed in the community that are unclassified that should be classified?

Ms Booyar—I do not know the answer to that. Under our scheme, there are specific examples and definitions of what a submittable publication is. There are myriad publications outside that which are not submittable publications. Unless the board and the director have a reason to believe that a publication may be submittable, it does not have to be submitted for classification. That is within the law and our codes.

Senator BARNETT —But the very reason that the director wrote to the publisher of ART MONTHLY is because concerns were raised by members of the public. My point is that there are other publications out there that you are not being made aware of that should be classified. Do you agree?

Ms Booyar —If we are made aware of them we will look at them.

Senator BARNETT —But there are no doubt publications in the community that you are not aware of that should be classified. Can you confirm that?

Ms Booyar —I am not aware of that, so—

CHAIR —Senator Barnett, do you have some examples of those publications to assist Ms Booyar?

Senator BARNETT — ART MONTHLY is an excellent example.

CHAIR —But are there others that you—

Ms Booyar —The ART MONTHLY magazine has been published for some time and the issue in question was that one particular issue, not every issue.

Senator BARNETT —I was interrupted and I would like to finish my questions regarding ART MONTHLY if I could.

CHAIR —You can do that.

Senator BARNETT—I hope you sense, Ms Booyar, and the department, that the motive behind the questions from this side is to protect the best interests of the child. So let us pursue ART MONTHLY for the moment. You wrote to the publisher on 8 July. When did you receive the document?

Ms Booyar —We received it on 11 July.

Senator BARNETT —On 11 July—and when was the assessment made and exactly what was the assessment?

Ms Booyar —On 16 July the Classification Board classified the July edition of ART MONTHLY AUSTRALIA as unrestricted with the consumer advice ‘M—not recommended for readers under 15 years’.

Senator BARNETT —So it is not recommended for readers under 15.

Ms Booyar —Yes.

Senator BARNETT —If I am a newsagency what does that mean in terms of display, promotion and advertising of that publication?

Ms Booyar —As I understand, it can be displayed in the newsagency. It does not require a sealed wrapper.

Senator BARNETT —So that is still available, then, to any person under the age or over the age who wants to come in and peruse that document.

Ms Booyar —Yes. Unrestricted magazines are like that, yes.

Senator BARNETT —Can you understand how a lot of people feel very upset by that, knowing that there are what I would consider offensive, revolting photographs of underage children in the ART MONTHLY publication? One newsagency that I visited in Launceston, for example, refused to even display it because it was, in their view, restricted. Yet you as a «classification» «board» did not see fit to restrict it.

Ms Booyar —We used the guidelines and applied them. As per the guidelines, it was an unrestricted publication.

Senator BARNETT —This is a concern that I know Senator McGauran and others have. You are interpreting the guidelines in such a way as to perhaps be more liberal than others might be in their interpretation of them.

Ms Booyar—I am happy to hand up a set of the guidelines, but under the unrestricted section it does say that classification encompasses a wide range of material—and some material that may be offensive to some people.

Senator BARNETT—I am going to move on, but let me just say that I commend that newsagency in Launceston for what they did to protect the best interests of children. I think they did the right thing and I commend them on it. It was perhaps to the financial disadvantage of that small business.

– Guy Barnett (Liberal)
– Olya Booyar, Acting Director, Classification Board
– Senate estimates, Parliament of Australia

Complaints to the Classification Board

September 21, 2009
Four complaints were received about the Classification Board’s decision to classify the July 2008 edition of ART MONTHLY Unrestricted with the consumer advice ‘M-not recommended for readers under 15 years’. Complainants were concerned about a photograph depicting a naked child on the front cover

– Classification Board, Annual Report 2008-2009

Views of the Classification Board

July 14, 2010
Another publication which attracted significant attention in recent years was the infamous July 2008 issue of ART MONTHLY, with a cover photograph by Australian photographer Polixeni Papapetrou of her daughter, entitled ‘Olympia as Lewis Carroll’s Beatrice Hatch before White Cliffs’. The photograph depicted the child sitting nude, in three quarter view, in a painted landscape.

This issue of ART MONTHLY was published very soon after the Bill Henson exhibition at a Sydney Gallery attracted media and community attention.

I used my powers to call in the publication for classification.

The Board subsequently classified the publication Unrestricted with the consumer advice ‘M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years’. The Board was of the view that the publication was a bona fide arts publication addressing serious issues of interest to the arts community.

A minority of the Board was of the view that the images in the publication depicted a child under 18 in such a manner that it was likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult and should therefore be Refused Classification.

As a result of community pressure and political decisions in the wake of the Bill Henson and ART MONTHLY matters, the Australia Council for the Arts’ developed protocols for working with children in art, that came into effect on 1 January 2009. The protocols require Australia Council funded artists and organisations to apply, in certain circumstances, for classification of images of naked real children. The Board has only received one application submitted in accordance with these protocols – the images were classified Unrestricted.

In this particular instance, there were two equally interesting and important debates: – whether the images constituted art or (in the extreme view) inappropriate sexualised images of children; and – whether, as art, it should even be subject to classification.

Art may fall within the definition of a publication and the Board must classify images if an application for classification is submitted. However the Classification Guidelines allow for bona fide artworks to be classified Unrestricted if they are set in a historical or cultural context, even though the work may offend some sections of the adult community.

In the past decade concerns related to the sexualisation of children in the media and protecting children from sexual predators have risen. A change in community standards is evident in the profile and number of interest lobby groups and their success in focussing attention on the issues and for instigating legislative changes.

That the Bill Henson images, which have been exhibited in the past, caused such a furore resulting in several applications for classification in the ensuing period, is another example of the shift in community standards in response to technological and social changes that have increased concerns about children’s safety.

Another element of the classification scheme is to protect children (including child actors/models) by ensuring that offensive material that contains descriptions and depictions of persons who are, or look like they are under 18, is refused classification.

The Classification Code was amended several years ago to bring the age definition of a minor into line with ILO 182 – the international treaty aimed at the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour including child pornography. Under this treaty a “child” is defined as a person under the age of 18 years compared with the age of consent which is 16 years old.

The Board has an important role – that it treats very seriously – in relation to classifying material submitted by law enforcement authorities, including items used in prosecutions for child pornography offences.

The Board’s experience in dealing with genuine examples of child pornography gives them a very useful perspective that can be applied to the classification of other material. Board members are able to apply their knowledge of child pornography to distinguish between it and, for example, high impact material in dramatic films or artistic representations in publications such as ART MONTHLY.

– The Australian Classification Board: History, Current Policies and Future Challenges
– Opening speech of the BSANZ Conference
– To Deprave and Corrupt: Forbidden, Hidden and Censored Books
– Donald McDonald, Director of the Classification Board (2007-current)