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Young British Artists

From Academic Kids

Young British Artists or YBAs is the name given to a group of conceptual artists, painters, sculptors and installation artists based in the United Kingdom, most (though not all) of whom attended Goldsmiths College in London. The term has dropped out of use as most of the YBAs are now in their forties. The work of the group was dubbed Britart, the phrase being attributed to a series of exhibitions organised at the Saatchi Gallery in 1990/1. The term has dated somewhat.

Formed in 1988, at a time when public funding for art was not readily available (and had been reduced by the Thatcher government), a group of 16 artists, were invited by Damien Hirst to take part in an exhibition called Freeze. Most of the commercial galleries in London showed a lack of interest in Hirst's project at the time, which led to the show being held in a Docklands warehouse. The event resonated with the 'Acid House' warehouse rave scene prevalent at the time, and drew significant publicity by the connection. It also gave rise to a huge interest on the part of many artists in being curators. Suddenly it seemed Hirst had singlehandedly created a new career-path and possibility for unknown artists to put a cool-sounding new job-title on their resumés and CVs. Artist-run exhibition spaces and galleries sprang up in the mid 1990's in London based on this idea. An example of this was City Racing at the Oval in London. Another artist who picked up on this theme was Tracey Emin who started her Tracey Emin Museum in Waterloo Road in 1996.

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The Saatchi Effect

One of the visitors to Freeze was Charles Saatchi, the notorious contemporary art collector and co-founder of Saatchi and Saatchi, the London advertising agency. Saatchi started collecting the Young British Artists work, and the rest is history. It was an interesting move for Saatchi at that time. The contemporary art market in London had dramatically collapsed in mid 1990, due to a major economic recession, and many commercial contemporary galleries had gone out of business. Saatchi had until this time collected mostly American and German contemporary art, (some by young artists, but most by already established ones.) This was publicly exhibited in big, long-running exhibitions in a converted factory building in St John's Wood, north London. Saatchi Gallery shows included such major figures as Warhol, Guston, Alex Katz, Serra, Kiefer, Polke, Richter and many more. Now Saatchi turned his attention to this new breed of Young British Artists. There was much concern when Saatchi divested himself of some of his earlier collection, since it had a significant effect on the value of many of the artists whose works he sold.

Becoming part of the Establishment

In addition to (and as a direct result of) Saatchi's patronage, the Young British Artists benefitted from intense media-coverage. This was connected to controversy surrounding the annual Turner Prize, (one of Britain's few major awards for contemporary artists.) The Young British Artists re-vitalised (and in some cases spawned) a whole new generation of contemporary commercial galleries such as Karsten Schubert, Sadie Coles, Victoria Miro, Interim Art, and Jay Jopling's White Cube, and Antony Wilkinson Gallery. With the advent of Tate Modern, and the Tate's ties with the Turner Prize, the whole of the British Art Establishment swung in line behind the Young British Artists very quickly. Hirst rapidly became an internationally recognised major artist, with shows in Europe and the US.

The Young British Artists from an early stage were more socially than aesthetically connected. Sarah Lucas has had relationships with in turn Damien Hirst, Gary Hume and Angus Fairhurst. Gillian Wearing had relationships with Mark Wallinger and Michael Landy. Tracey Emin had a relationship with both Carl Freedman and Mat Collishaw. Places where it would be possible to spot YBAs included the Groucho Club, St. Johns Restaurant and pubs around Hoxton.

Much of the Young British Artists artistic output is still owned by Charles Saatchi. A major exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in 1997 called Sensation, (containing much of his personal collection, and also shown in Berlin and New York) in some senses brought the initial period of the Young British Artists to an end: they had arrived as part of the establishment.

In 2002 Britart was heavily criticised by the leading conductor Sir Simon Rattle, who was, in return, accused of having a poor understanding of conceptual and visual art.

In Spring 2003 Saatchi opened a new gallery in London, housed in the County Hall building on the South Bank. The older Saatchi Gallery in St John's Wood being closed. The new Saatchi Gallery exhibit the work of the Young British Artists still.

On 24 May, 2004, a fire in a storage warehouse destroyed many works from the Saatchi collection.

Beyond the core group of the artists from Freeze a second wave of Young British Artists appeared in 1992-3 through exhibitions such as 'New Contemporaries' and 'New British Summertime'. This included Douglas Gordon, Christine Borland, Fiona Banner, Tracey Emin, Tacita Dean and The Wilson Sisters. The composition of the Young British Artists at their height is documented in the catalogue for the 1995 British Art Show.

Original Young British Artists (From Freeze

Other YBAs

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