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Last year the Royal Academy staged the first in a series of three annual contemporary shows, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline. Intended to allow the Royal Academy to take risks, that exhibition amounted to a great deal of clamour but rather less substance.

This year, the Royal Academy’s new director of exhibitions, Kathleen Soriano, successor to the irrepressible Norman Rosenthal, has taken a strong curatorial grip. Her ambition is to make galleries “places of relevance,” where the…

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