Group Exhibition. Royal Academy of Arts, London, United Kingdom.

18 September 1997 – 28 December 1997

'This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed at Home' (1996). Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

The exhibition included 110 works from 44 artists. Five of Hirst’s key ‘Natural History’ works were exhibited, including ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (1991). In addition, there were a spot painting and a spin painting, plus the fly piece Saatchi purchased in 1990, ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990). 

The exhibition sparked demonstrations demanding the removal of Marcus Harvey’s ‘Myra’ (1995) – a painting depicting murderess Myra Hindley in an image made up of children’s handprints. The painting was vandalised during the course of the exhibition, but after being repaired it was returned to the Royal Academy for the remainder of the show. On travelling to the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in 1999, ‘Sensation’ caused another major controversy, this time because of Chris Ofili’s painting ‘The Holy Virgin Mary’ (1996), which incorporated elephant dung. Federal funding of the museum was dropped the same year.

According to Martin Maloney, writing at the time of the exhibition, ‘Sensation’ “substantially maps the contribution of those participants who have added to the diversity of what art is and what it can say … It has engaged and entertained an audience who find in it a reflection of their own pleasures, anxieties and phobias.”[1]

The featured artists were Darren Almond, Richard Billingham, Glenn Brown, Simon Callery, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Adam Chodzko, Mat Collishaw, Keith Coventry, Peter Davies, Tracey Emin, Paul Finnegan, Mark Francis, Alex Hartley, Marcus Harvey, Mona Hatoum, Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Michael Landy, Abigail Lane, Langlands & Bell, Sarah Lucas, Martin Maloney, Jason Martin, Alain Miller, Ron Mueck, Chris Ofili, Jonathan Parsons, Richard Patterson, Simon Patterson, Hadrian Pigott, Marc Quinn, Fiona Rae, James Rielly, Jenny Saville, Yinka Shonibare, Jane Simpson, Sam Taylor-Wood, Gavin Turk, Mark Wallinger, Gillian Wearing, Rachel Whiteread and Cerith Wyn Evans.

‘Sensation’ travelled to: Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart; and Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York.

[1] Martin Maloney, ‘Everyone a winner! Selected British art from the Saatchi Collection 1987-97’, ‘Sensation’ (Royal Academy of Arts, 1997), 34