A new sensation: Saatchi's return to Royal Academy sparks pornography row

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The Independent Online

The last time Charles Saatchi showed his art at the Royal Academy, four Academicians resigned, protesters attacked a portrait of the child-murderer Myra Hindley and one room had an unprecedented "adults only" warning.

Bur judging by a first glimpse of his new exhibition, nine years after the groundbreaking Sensation show, Saatchi has made no efforts to censor his second venture into the distinguished 238-year-old institution.

His new show, USA Today, will feature more than 150 works by 40 young Americans, many never seen before in Britain.

Among the exhibits will be some guaranteed to upset those who previously took offence at Chris Ofili's dung-covered Virgin Mary or the Chapman brothers sculptures of children augmented by distorted genitalia.

Several works by Gerald Davis, a 32-year-old artist born in Pennsylvania, explore childhood fantasies in a way that may disturb while 37-year-old Lara Schnitger's "I want kids" sculpture, with its giant phallus invites controversy. Schnitger denies any suggestion of paedophilia and sees it as a "sort of fertility symbol".

But Davis admits paintings such as Monica, in which a young girl with pompoms on her socks is seen performing oral sex, stemmed from his own fantasies at the age of 12.

"I don't think I fully understood a lot of these things at the time and that's why it's interesting to meditate on them with an adult perspective. It's an adult telling a story from a kid's point of view," he said.

Asked whether he worried about how it might be regarded, he said: "I can't think too much about how people may interpret a work because that can lead to serious artist's block.

"I realise that childhood sexuality is a taboo subject and can offend some people and be exciting to others. But if someone has a particular fetish, they bring that to the image, not vice versa."

Norman Rosenthal, the exhibitions secretary at the Royal Academy, admitted he was "a little fearful" when the show was first suggested. Some Academicians - the artists elected to run the Academy - quickly expressed concern about inviting Saatchi to return.

But Mr Rosenthal said: "I went to the States, met a lot of the artists and dealers and collectors and there's no question that what Charles is doing - rather as he did with Sensation - is epoch-making."

Now Mr Rosenthal is describing USA Today as "the next great show". He insists that the artists are engaging in topical aspects of the world, not setting out to shock.

"It doesn't mean any artists condone paedophilia, but it doesn't mean to say you shouldn't confront it, [just] as one confronts issues of the environment or global politics and so on."

Saatchi said:Although they are largely unknown outside a small group of enthusiasts in America, I think their work is going to grab people by the throat, and the fact that they're not household names anywhere yet only makes it more exciting."

Asked whether he expected to upset visitors, he said: "Well, there's no head made of George Bush's blood... there are no portraits of child-killers, but those who are in the business of being offended shouldn't be too disappointed."

USA Today runs from 6 October to 4 November at the Royal Academy, Burlington Gardens.

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