'The light fades but the gods remain' was a major exhibition at Monash Gallery of Art 27 July – 29 September 2019, showcasing two key series by Bill Henson, one of Australia’s most eminent artists, exploring the suburb of Glen Waverley where he grew up.
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’. Both series of work were exhibited at MGA in July 2019. This groundbreaking commission 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.
In this Artsy online exclusive, the eleven new Bill Henson photographs are available for the first time.
'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. 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.'
– Anouska Phizacklea, MGA Director
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. They explore universal themes of loss and mourning that touch us all. These new works will be seen for the first time at MGA in July.
'In the new works, it is as though the sun is sinking on an empire that humanity has all but abandoned. 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.'
– Pippa Milne, MGA Senior Curator
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. 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.'
– Bill Henson, Artist
About Bill Henson
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.
Publication with Thames & Hudson
The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive publication, The light fades but the gods remain, co-published with Thames & Hudson Australia.
Hardback and clothbound with a jacket featuring one of Bill Henson’s iconic photographs – plus a premium edition presented in a signed slipcase – this publication is more work of art than exhibition catalogue. With a foreword by MGA Director Anouska Phizacklea and an essay by MGA Senior Curator Pippa Milne, and including over 150 pages of Henson’s most personal works, The light fades but the gods remain is a visual celebration and tribute to one of Australia’s most eminent artists.
The light fades but the gods remain by Bill Henson, co-published by Monash Gallery of Art and Thames & Hudson Australia. $AUD99 (jacketed hardback) / $AUD150 (premium edition in signed slipcase)