"Sensation" it was titled. Sensation it was. First red and blue Indian ink, then an egg, were smuggled through the security cordons and hurled on to the controversial painting of Myra Hindley.
Before that we had shattered glass, megaphones, placards, images of media manipulation, tears, confusion and bewilderment. And that was just in the courtyard.
Inside the Royal Academy there was a genuine sensation. A man was apprehended after two canisters of ink were thrown at the much-publicised painting of Moors murderer Myra Hindley, made from casts of a child's handprints. Minutes later an egg was thrown.
Security guards, two police officers, and an academy curator immediately disappeared into the room in a frantic attempt to clean off the ink before it dried.
Two 19-year-old art students saw the first man kick the painting from the wall. "You should be ashamed of yourselves," he shouted at them as he splattered the canvas with red and blue ink. They then watched the second man throw an egg. "I don't understand why there was such an extreme reaction to it," one of the students said. "It's quite good now though, she looks like she has been punched and has a bloody nose."
As they were led to a police van one protester shouted to bewildered onlookers: "No one should be allowed to make money or fame out of the death of little children."
The Royal Academy said last night that the painting, by Marcus Harvey, would be removed for cleaning, which was expected to take about a week. A police spokeswoman later said that the first man, 44, from the West Midlands, had been bailed to appear at Bow Street police station on 3 November. The second man, 48, an artist of Battersea, south-west London, was still being questioned.
The attack was an unhappy end to a day that had been a piece of theatre in the courtyard outside the academy, a conceptual happening that Damien Hirst and chums could only envy.
It started at 4am when a rock was hurled through a window in Piccadilly next to the Royal Academy banner proclaiming the show. The rock was thought to have been hurled in protest against Harvey's painting ofHindley being shown. However, the window belonged to the Geological Society, its members normally devotees of rocks.They are asking the Royal Academy for compensation.
Scene two saw the academy's wish to broaden its audience for art exhibitions swiftly answered. Police from the vice squad demanded to see the exhibition. They were shown round Jake and Dinos Chapman's naked mannequins and children with erect genitalia on their faces; saw Chris Ofili's Virgin Mary with its cut-outs of pornographic photographs; were allowed if they wished to lie in Tracey Emin's tent embroidered with the names of everyone she had slept with; stood in dignified silence by Ron Mueck's Dead Dad, a silicone and acrylic naked corpse on the floor; and feasted their eyes on Sarah Lucas's Two Fried Eggs And A Kebab, sculpted food resembling a woman's sexual organs on a table.
The police left, unshocked, their reaction a damning piece of art criticism for the Young British Artists (YBAs).
Outside, the queues were forming, largely students and backpackers. As they queued they were picketed by megaphone by the pressure group Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, urging them not to view the Hindley picture. "They used to hang killers on the gallows. Now they hang them in the gallery," they yelled.
And then they brought in to the courtyard Winnie Johnson, the 64-year- old mother of one of the Moors' victims. The distraught Mrs Johnson was a poignant sideshow, and not a spectacle one would have wished to see at the entrance to an art exhibition. RA secretary David Gordon had invited her to view the painting to show her that it did not glamorise Hindley, she said. But she would not enter the building.
"Ask the head of the Royal Academy if he would go in and see the portrait of the person who murdered his child," she sobbed.
By now the queue was lengthening and the first visitors were emerging from their view of the provocative, ironic and striking mixture of the challenging and the plain silly, a modern-day freak show.
First out was rock star Ian Dury. "I don't know why it's called `Sensation'," he said, "because `Sensation' for me is about sex and pleasure."
Despite the cryptic quality of that remark, he had, he said, enjoyed the show. So had numerous students. Julia Hardt of Germany found the exhibition "so provoking and disgusting, just amazing".
Of the home visitors, Harriet Cronin loved the "wonderfully deployed three- dimensional humour", and vowed to return several times.
Tim Stevens, a 24-year-old archaeologist, mused: "I didn't find the Hindley painting offensive at all. I'm intrigued as to whether Charles Saatchi is going to sell it and the other works. It seems great advertising by a great ad man."
Spare a thought, though, for Mr and Mrs Lay who had come from Harwich and came out of the academy saying angrily: "We believe that painting should beautify the world." Why then had they come? "We came to see the summer show. We thought it was still on."
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