A topless photo of a fifteen-year-old dormant supermodel, Kate Moss, which is being exhibited as of today at The Art Gallery of New South Wales, reportedly has the potential to reignite “community concerns” fuelling the immutable debate surrounding the art/porn binary. That is, at least according to a report in today’s Sydney Morning Herald that raises the question, ‘Is it art?’ [It being a photograph taken by an artist exhibited in an art gallery.]
Yes, almost certainly.
The photograph of a young Moss, which was taken by Bettina Rheims, is being exhibited in the Modern Lovers portrait series depicting androgynous youths alongside twenty photographs by the late, great German-Australian photographer, Helmut Newton. The image has previously been on public display, including its initial showing more than two decades ago in London, much to Kate’s chagrin:
“I hated it [the photo]! I hated my boobs more than anything as a teenager. I’d do anything not to take my top off. I see nudity as empowering now. Before I didn’t. I cried for years!”
A spokeswoman for the AGNSW defended their right to exhibit the photograph, saying “She’s part of a series [using] models, the oldest of whom was 20, to depict an androgynous image of youth.
We exhibit art not pornography.”
As is often the case when images of children in art are exhibited throughout Sydney, the forecast for concern is ‘cloudy, with a chance of fist-shaking’. The NSW government amended its child pornography laws in 2010 following the controversy surrounding Bill Henson’s chiaroscuro photographs of nude youths in 2008; Del Kathryn Barton’s photograph of her son covered in googly eyes and bubbles also ignited similar concerns in 2010.
Despite her retrospective protestations, the photograph itself looks to be pretty innocuous and devoid of any latent sexuality or deviousness, mostly on account of those bangs and overworked tresses. What do you think; ‘is it art?’
Beside the gross hair, Rheims’ photograph of Moss recalls those taken by the late Corinne Day, the photographer credited with launching Kate’s career only a year later in a series of iconic images of the then sixteen-year-old, who was roughly the same age as Kate’s younger sister is now.
Modern Lovers is showing at the AGNSW until May 19th; you should probably check it out in case a rash of communal concern flares up again.