Young British Artists: a story of success.
Term used to identify a group of British artists active in London from the 1980s to the late 1990s. The term was derived from a series of six exhibitions, Young British Artists I to Young British Artists VI, held between March 1992 and November 1996 at the Saatchi Gallery, London.
The earliest core members of the group attended Goldsmiths’ College, London, in the late 1980s, under the tutelage of Michael Craig-Martin, Richard Wentworth and others.
The group rose to prominence through a mixture of precocious talent and self-promotion, encouraged by the patronage of new collectors, particularly charles Saatchi.
The genesis of the YBAs can be traced to a 1988 warehouse show in London, curated by Damien Hirst and entitled Freeze. Hirst exhibited works by himself and 15 of his fellow Goldmiths’ students, including Angela Bulloch, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Richard Patterson and Fiona Rae.
Like the pop movement before it, artists were not afraid to mix unconventional media with art, including video, photography, painting, collage, sculpture and installation pieces. However, this movement goes far beyond the restrictions of pop art, allowing for any means of expression through any possible medium.
Many YBAs are notably famous for their controversial shock tactics, use of use of throwaway materials, wild-living, and an attitude of both oppositional and entrepreneurial. The YBA label proved to be a powerful brand and marketing tool, but it concealed huge diversity between the artists involved. Despite this, the liberal approach has led many to question the fundamentals of creativity, and what actually classifies as ‘art’.
The subject-matter is varied but shows clearly the influences of Marcel Duchamp, in the prominence given to conceptual art, found objects and unconventional, even humorous interpretations of everyday life, and of Joseph Beuys, in the exploration of the positioning of the artist within society.
Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (tiger shark, glass and steel, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.) showcases the prospect of imminent death.
Sarah Lucas’ Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab (photograph, fried eggs, kebab and table, 1992; London, Saatchi Gal.) utilizes objects foreign to the gallery environment to explore issues of sexuality.
The signature pieces of Gavin Turk, for example Cave (ceramic, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.), explore the relationship of the artist to his work and his public.
Other artists whose work has been referred to by the term include Chris Ofili, Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread (featured in the first of Saatchi’s group exhibitions), Dinos and Jake Chapman and Ron Mueck.
By the late 1990s the YBAs were at the centre of the contemporary art scene. Their works were infamously brought together in the Sensation exhibition (London, Berlin and New York, 1997–2000) and are included in major public collections worldwide.
The Young British Artists revitalised (and in some cases spawned) a whole new generation of contemporary commercial galleries such as Karsten Schubert, Sadie Coles, Victoria Miro, Maureen Paley's Interim Art, and Jay Jopling's White Cube. The spread of interest improved the market for contemporary British art magazines through increased advertising and circulation. Frieze launched in 1991 embraced the YBAs from the start while established publications such as Art Monthly, Art Review, Modern Painters and Contemporary Art were all re-launched with more focus on emerging British artists.