RA to change tea and sponge cake image

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The Independent Online
THE ROYAL Academy, the apex of Britain's art establishment, is to change its image to attract young people turned on by the "Britpack" contemporary art explosion.

The academy is to build a new Friends' room in its 18th- century building in central London, complete with modern furniture and alcohol available all day long. And next year it will mount Sensation 2, a sequel to its controversial but very successful Sensation exhibition in 1997, which brought Damien Hirst's preserved sharks and a painting of Myra Hindley into the academy.

The additional Friends' room, which designer Eva Jiricna has been asked to plan, will be the most blatant attempt to update the Royal Academy's image. It will be through a doorway from the present Friends' room, which will remain open for use. Ms Jiricna, who specialises in glass as a design feature, has designed interiors for the fashion house Joseph and a number of bars and restaurants, including Le Caprice in London.

Until now the Friends' area has been an oasis of calm and reflection in London's increasingly frenetic art scene - a lounge where members of the 75,000-strong organisation have until now studied art journals over nothing stronger than tea and Victoria sponge cake.

The room has been virtually a private club in the heart of the West End and the Friends have been very happy with it. But the RA management has studiedthe current Friends membership and found that the typical Friend is a female over the age of 45. Sixty per cent of the membership are over 55. Only 8 per cent are under 35.

With the burgeoning interest in art among Britain's youth, the academy management wants to attract a younger art lover. Norman Rosenthal, the RA's exhibitions organiser, said yesterday: "There is an extraordinary interest in contemporary art. I can remember when only around 300 people in London were interested in it."

He added that he had not decided yet which works would be in Sensation 2 but, unlike the Sensation exhibition they would not be drawn exclusively from Charles Saatchi's collection, and the show was likely to be international rather than just concentrating on British art. "It will cry and proclaim the potential of art today," he said.

In another novel departure, the academy confirmed it will become the first art gallery in Britain to open all night.

It will do this for one night only on Saturday 17 April to allow 8,000 more visitors to see its Monet exhibition.

The all-night opening will become something of a cultural party, complete with a live band, coffee and breakfast bar and a midnight debate on the 24-hour city.

So far the Monet exhibition has attracted 210,000 visitors; 360,000 tickets to the exhibition were booked in advance, beating the academy's previous box office records. However, some 180,000 tickets are still available for the exhibition.

Among highlights of the coming year's programme will be exhibitions on Van Dyck, Kandinsky, Joseph Beuys, John Hoyland and the architect Sir John Soane. The exhibition to mark the millennium will look back at the art of 1900.

The academy's cumulative deficit, which had totalled pounds 3m in 1996 and is now down to pounds 500,000, is likely to be eradicated during this year.