Royal Academy's `Sensation' proves to be a shockingly good crowd- puller

The Royal Academy's `Sensation' exhibition of young British artists which prompted protests and resignations was hailed yesterday as one of the most successful shows it has ever held. Louise Jury explains why it proved such a crowd-puller.

The British public flocked to see explicit pornography, a blood-filled head and a portrait of Moors murderer Myra Hindley made from children's handprints, according to figures released yesterday.

The Royal Academy (RA) said 284,734 people - around 2,800 a day - visited the show over the last three months, despite pleas from families of Hindley's victims not to attend.

More than 400 people also attended a public debate to discuss the works, which were deemed more shocking than almost anything else in the academy's 230-year history.

The exhibition featured 110 works by some of the biggest names in young "Brit art", loaned from the collection of Charles Saatchi, the advertising executive and art collector who runs his own gallery in north London.

The graphic nature of the exhibition forced the RA to erect warning notices and to transform one of the15 viewing rooms into an adults-only zone. Among the works this contained was an exhibit by the brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman featuring child mannequins with grotesque genitalia grafted onto their heads.

The portrait of Myra Hindley was vandalised, once with blue paint and once with eggs, by outraged members of the public within the first few days of the show opening. It was restored within a week, but security was stepped up.

An RA spokeswoman said yesterday: "It is true to say that the work in the exhibition has caused a sensation and shocked people, but we are not afraid to shock people. The public have said to us that they are internationally acclaimed artists and they should be shown. It has been very successful."

A Mori survey commissioned by the RA disclosed that 33 per cent of those who visited said they enjoyed the exhibition much more than they thought they would and 91 per cent felt the RA should show art even if it shocked or caused offence.

Nearly half the visitors - 48 per cent - were under 35 years old, and 11 per cent went as part of a school visit.

Sensation is now due to tour galleries in Europe.

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