Royal Academy rejects sculpture but loves plinth

When the artist David Hensel was told that his sculpture of a laughing face had been selected for the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition, he was thrilled. But his delight turned to puzzlement when he searched the show high and low before discovering that only its plinth was on display.

Somewhere during the selection process - when Royal Academicians choose from among nearly 10,000 works submitted for inclusion by members of the public - the head and the base were separated. And it emerged yesterday that the selectors had judged each on its merits. They admired the plinth enormously but rejected the head.

A new meeting was being called last night to scrutinise the two pieces together as Hensel intended and consider whether the work, One Day Closer to Paradise, should be reunited.

The artist himself, however, is rather intrigued by the consequences of the error. Hensel, 61, of East Grinstead, West Sussex, said: "As someone who has spent my entire life trying to come up with a new definition of art every day so that I know whether I'm an artist or not, this is very interesting. Of course I would have liked to have my intended sculpture on show. But what I think now is I'm very amused - I never got cross.

"The great big laughing head is a kind of image of what one might feel about the idea of going to paradise. From one angle it's complete laughter and from another the face looks completely horrified. That's why I wanted it to be loose. The base is made from mortuary slab and the little piece of wood that was meant to keep the head in place looks like bone. So the fact that the head has disappeared is entirely in keeping. Maybe it achieved transcendence. I think it's totally delightful."

The problem is of the variety that is supposed to be resolved at the so-called varnishing day on the Monday before the show opened. But Hensel was unable to go to that event because he was teaching. So it was only when he attended a preview at the end of last week that he realised what had happened.

"I went around the whole thing and by the time I got to the end I was feeling a bit depressed because actually there's a lot of stuff in there that isn't as good as it could be," he said. "And then right at the end, after going round everywhere, I saw the base. I went straight away to speak to somebody at the desk."

A Royal Academy spokeswoman said: "Given their separate submission, the two parts were judged independently. The head was rejected. The base was thought to have merit and accepted; it is currently on display. The head has been safely stored."

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which includes 1,300 works by Royal Academicians and members of the public, is open until 20 August.

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