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'SENSATION: YOUNG BRITISH ARTISTS' | TWENTY YEARS ON
December 15th 2017
Exactly twenty years ago the Royal Academy opened a now infamous exhibition of British contemporary art titled ‘Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection’ - and a sensation it certainly was! An exhibition that triggered industry backlash, public criticism, and mass media attention, ‘Sensation’ also launched the exhibiting artists into the spotlight of the international art world.
by Tessa Yee
NEWS FROM EYESTORM
The creator and central figure of this exhibition was not one of the artists involved, nor was it an Academy curator, but instead was the multi-millionaire Charles Saatchi, owner of the outrageous collection of artworks on show, and perhaps Britain’s most influential contemporary art collector of all time.

Contentious from the very start, ’Sensation’ came about almost completely by chance, when an Old Masters exhibition at the Royal Academy (RA) was cancelled, and renowned art collector Charles Saatchi, using his close connections within the academy, was able to step up and fill the gap in the programme. Saatchi selected 110 works from his collection by artists who were already rising stars in the British art world thanks predominantly to his patronage - Adam Chodzko, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gavin Turk, Marc Quinn, Martin Maloney, and the Chapman Brothers to name just a few.
Damien Hirst

Valium , 2000

127(w) x 127(h) cm
50.00(w) x 50.00(h) inches
Lambda C Type print

Signed on the front and numbered on verso.
Edition of 500
Available from a private collection
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Featuring artists known for their often-controversial subject matter, around a quarter of the RA’s academicians warned that ‘Sensation’ could be inflammatory, creating a media buzz around the exhibition even before it opened to the public. One work in particular that sparked significant attention, was Marcus Harvey’s huge portrait of Moors child murderer, Myra Hindley, an image made up of hundreds of tiny child handprints. Such was the negative outcry to this work that protestors were stationed outside the Academy when the show opened, and increased security was necessary after windows were smashed and the work egged by protestors. After a narrow vote by the members of the Academy ended in favour of keeping the works on show, four Academicians resigned in protest, only fuelling the attention on the exhibition even more. Despite some negative reactions, ‘Sensation’ exceeded all expectations, and while it shocked, and in some cases offended, the Royal Academy was praised for its bold stance to back these daring artists as important figures that defined contemporary British Art of the time.

But of course, this was not an exhibition purely curated by the Royal Academy, and unlike many museum exhibitions, the artworks selected were taken from just one individual’s private collection - the advertising mogul, Charles Saatchi.
Adam Chodzko

Ask the Dust (Unknown Landscape, 1973, with dust from 415, Lefferts Avenue, Apt.A7, Brooklyn, NY, 11225, 2013) , 2013

40(w) x 28(h) cm
15.94(w) x 11.02(h) inches
Archival print on Hahnemühle Photorag 308gsm

Series of 35 (with a different silhouette of dust on each print)
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£ 650.00
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When exploring the story of ‘Sensation’, we cannot forget the man behind the collection - a man who essentially invented an entire movement. In the 1990s, having already firmly established himself as a collector of some of the biggest international names in contemporary art, Saatchi started to patron some of our home-grown young British artists still fresh out of art school. Collecting works by artists such as Jenny Saville, Gary Hume, Damien Hirst and Peter Davies, he then showed them in his ‘Young British Artists’ (YBA) exhibition in 1992, from which the term YBA’s was coined and a movement was born.

A fusion of pop art and conceptualism with a playful feel and punchy message, YBA art not only grabbed the attention of the art industry, but also the wider public due to its accessibility and often shock-value. Saatchi’s long established reputation as a key figure and influence in the art worldmeant his very investment and exhibition of these artists threw their work into the spotlight, and created a buzz around this new movement both at home and abroad.
Martin Maloney

Love Bug , 2001

76(w) x 43(h) cm
29.92(w) x 17.13(h) inches
24 colour screenprint
Edition of 250
PRICE (INCL. VAT)
£ 720.00
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While Saatchi’s investment certainly helped build these young artists’ success, his relationships with them could be described as somewhat controversial. In many cases Saatchi bought and sold his art on the secondary market, exhibiting his collection without permission or endorsement from the artists themselves. Notably, the artwork exhibited in ‘Sensation’s by Tracey Emin had to be acquired in the private collectors market because the artist had for a long time refused to sell anything to “a man whose advertising campaigns had kept the British Conservative party in power for years”.

So while yes, ‘Sensation’ was a huge success - now firmly placed as a landmark exhibition in the history books of British Contemporary Art - there is also an irony to the whole event. That is, the artists who should have been at the centre of the exhibition, really had nothing to do with it. The exhibition could also be seen as conflicting with the original philosophies the artists had tried to follow - one that was non-conventional and anti-establishment, where exhibiting at the Royal Academy was the antithesis of the self-curated, artist-led exhibitions in warehouses that the YBA’s had previously been known for. Ironically, while being part of Charles Saatchi’s collection and the ‘Sensation’ exhibition put many of these artists firmly in the art history books, it also placed them amongst the glitz and glamour of the elitist art world, making them part of the very system they had tried to reject.

Peter Davies

The Fun one Hundred , 2001

76(w) x 101(h) cm
30.12(w) x 39.84(h) inches
29 colour screenprint

Image size: 60 x 84cm
Edition of 250
PRICE (INCL. VAT)
£ 720.00
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Whether they like it or not, the YBA artists are now firmly institutionalised within the art world, with many of the artists’ works in major museum collections such as the Tate, and widely recognised as household names. ‘Sensation’, which eventually toured in Berlin and New York, brought their art to the very forefront of international public attention, defining a uniquely British movement within the broader history of contemporary art. And perhaps it should be argued that it all started with Charles Saatchi - who used his influence and power to push forward a movement beyond the confined British market and into the international public eye. After all, it is now hard to imagine the history of contemporary art without the YBAs, and it is even harder to imagine the YBA’s without Charles Saatchi.

From 1999 Eyestorm proudly released several exclusive print editions with many from the Young British Artists movement, including some which were not exhibited in ‘Sensation’. You can read more about Eyestorm’s history in the article Celebrating almost Twenty Years of Eyestorm , which can be found here.
Gavin Turk

Fresh Window , 2001

81(w) x 81(h) cm
31.89(w) x 31.89(h) inches
Edition 23 of 100
Only 30 printed and signed
Giclee print on canvas
Edition of 100
PRICE (INCL. VAT)
£ 1,500.00
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