Label applied to a loose group of British artists who began to exhibit together in 1988 and who became known for their openness to materials and processes, perceived shock tactics and entrepreneurial attitude
In the late 1980s British art entered what was quickly recognised as a new and excitingly distinctive phase, the era of what became known as the YBAs – the Young British Artists. Young British Art can be seen to have a convenient starting point in the exhibition Freeze organised by Damien Hirst while he was still a student at Goldsmiths College in London in 1988. Hirst became the most celebrated, or notorious, of the YBAs. Goldsmiths, which was attended by many of the YBAs, and numbered Michael Craig Martin among its most influential teachers, had been for some years fostering new forms of creativity through its courses that, for example, abolished the traditional separation of the media of art.
The first use of the term ‘young British artists’ was by Michael Corris in Artforum, May 1992. The acronym term ‘YBA’ was not coined until 1996 (in Art Monthly magazine).
The label turned out to be a powerful brand and marketing tool, but of course it concealed huge diversity. Nevertheless certain broad trends both formal and thematic can be discerned. Formally, the era is marked by a complete openness towards the materials and processes with which art can be made, and the form that it can take.
Leading artists have preserved dead animals (Damien Hirst); crushed found objects with a steamroller (Cornelia Parker); appropriated objects from medical history (Christine Borland); presented her own bed as art (Tracey Emin); made sculpture from fresh food, cigarettes, or women’s tights (Sarah Lucas). YBA artists have made extensive use of film, video and photography; used drawing and printmaking in every conceivable way; increasingly developed the concept of the installation (a multi-part work occupying a single space), and not least, refreshed and revitalised the art of painting.