The 35ft-high statue by Damien Hirst in the Royal Academy's entrance courtyard spells it out: the Sensation generation is back.
Nine years after the Young British Artists created a storm when Charles Saatchi lent the Academy the highlights of his collection for its now-legendary "Sensation" show, eight have returned to exhibit works in this year's summer exhibition.
The body of work this year from Sensation artists including the Chapman brothers, Tracey Emin, Marcus Harvey and Sarah Lucas, constitutes a deliberate "small reunion," in the words of the academician Tom Phillips, who invited them to take part.
Some have exhibited works in the summer exhibition before. But only one - Gary Hume - has so far been elected to the Royal Academy though Jake and Dinos Chapman and Emin have made clear their aspiration to belong to the 238-year-old artists' club. The Chapmans point out their desire for membership in the title of their small oil painting: Two Little Pixies Happy as Hell on Reception of the News that Jake and Dinos are Finally Receiving Their RA, As Promised. Thank you very much for your kind attention.
Phillips described the inclusion of this generation as "a welcome return to the scene of their still controversial triumph".
Damien Hirst's enormous sculpture, Virgin Mother, weighs 14 tons and is not for sale. But the majority of the 1,300 works in the summer exhibition are. In addition to pieces by Royal Academicians, including Anish Kapoor, Richard Long and Elizabeth Blackadder, around 890 works by members of the public were selected out of nearly 10,000 submitted for consideration.
David Mach, 50, one of the younger RAs and a co-ordinator this year, said he believed they had given the show "a bit of elegance that sometimes it doesn't have". The change in feel starts as soon as visitors arrive in the front courtyard to be confronted by Hirst's sculpture. "That looks really different," he said.
He added: "The Royal Academy is very sluggish but it feels to me that we're opening up a bit and taking lots of things on board and changing. It is important for a big institution like this to change every decade."
Ken Howard, RA, agreed. "It's very important that the Academy doesn't stand still. We've got to encourage and even invite one or two younger artists to put work in," he said. "On the other hand, there are probably about 10 works by Sensation and the YBAs out of 1,300 so obviously we're not bending over backwards."
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which is sponsored by Insight Investment, runs from 12 June until 20 August. Admission is £7Reuse content