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Young British Artists

About this term

Source: Oxford University Press

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. Subsequent group exhibitions cemented the artists’ reputations for independence, entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to manipulate the media; particularly the warehouse show Modern Medicine (1990), curated by Hirst and journalist Carl Freedman (b 1965), and Freedman’s Minky Manky (1995; London, S. London A.G.).

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.

Octavia Nicholson
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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