Sensation exhibition press conference (1997)

The following are comments offered via a press release issued on the occasion of a press conference for the landmark Sensation exhibition (18 September - 28 December 1997), which stampeded into the mass media.

Sensation press conference

Royal Academy of Arts, London
16 September 1997


Text by Royal Academy of Arts

The following comments were made by Sir Philip Dowson, President of the Royal Academy and David Gordon, Secretary of the Royal Academy at a press briefing for Sensation today.

Sir Philip Dowson PRA

I would like to make two points:

First, the decision to put this exhibition on followed the rigorous democratic procedures of the Academy. It was approved by the Exhibitions Committee on 8 January last. This is composed entirely of RAs and chaired by Tom Phillips. It was then approved by Council. Following the controversy over the Hindley picture, Council met again and reaffirmed the decision to proceed. A General Assembly of Academicians voted in favour of Council’s decision. There was intense debate, and I respect the views of those of my fellow Academicians who dissented.

Second, the Academy puts on the broadest possible range of art exhibitions. Our next exhibition—Art Treasures of England—will be of a completely different sort of collecting—by regional galleries and museums.

It is our obligation to show art of all kinds.

I believe this to be a serious and extremely important exhibition.

David Gordon commented,

One of the controversial works in the exhibition is the picture of Myra Hindley by Marcus Harvey. As you have seen, it has been included in the exhibition.

This decision, as Sir Philip has said, was taken after long and careful discussions.

The picture, based on the well-known police photo and using the cast of a child’s hand, makes us think afresh about Myra Hindley’s crimes and her punishment, and our reactions.

The majority view inside the Academy was that millions and millions of images of Myra Hindley have been reproduced in newspapers and magazines. Books have been written about the murders. Television programmes have been made. Hindley’s image is in the public domain; part of our consciousness; an awful part of our recent social history; a legitimate subject for journalism—and for art.

There are a few other works in the exhibition which are strong, graphic and will be offensive to some. We will be posting notices at the entrance to the exhibition to alert visitors.

One gallery containing the piece Zygotic acceleration by Jake and Dinos Chapman is closed to the under 18s. Parental guidance should be exercised for the whole show. Not all art is suitable for everyone.

The Academy believes that the public, having seen for itself, should judge for itself.

The Academy also believes in and welcomes discussion and debate.

Once people have seen the exhibition for themselves, they will be invited to fill out a questionnaire giving their views. These are the questions:

1. Having seen this exhibition for yourself do you think the
Royal Academy of Arts was right to stage it?

2. Are there works exhibited which you think should not have
been shown? If so which, and for what reasons?

3. Should the Royal Academy present art even if it shocks
and causes offence?

In six weeks or so, we will have a public debate on the exhibition to discuss the issues raised by it and the results of the survey will be made public then.