The label Young British Artists (YBAs) is 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, shock tactics and entrepreneurial attitude
- Introduction to the YBAs
- YBA artists in focus
- YBAs in context
- Other perspectives on the YBAs
- YBAs in detail
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 in 1988 by Damien Hirst (the most celebrated, or notorious, of the YBAs) while he was still a student at Goldsmiths College of Art. Freeze included the work of fellow Goldsmiths students, many of whom also became leading artists associated with the YBAs, such as Sarah Lucas, Angus Fairhurst and Michael Landy.
Goldsmiths College of Art played an important role in the development of the movement. It had for some years been fostering new forms of creativity through its courses which abolished the traditional separation of media into painting, sculpture, printmaking etc. Michael Craig-Martin was among its most influential teachers.
I spent a lot of years teaching and I’d never seen anything where there was such a large number of people who connected in this way
What does YBA art look like?
Although certain broad trends both formal and thematic can be seen in YBA art, (such as the use of found objects and imagery that is sometimes perceived as shocking); there is no one YBA style or approach. 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 YBA 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 (e.g. Michael Landy); 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 (Gary Hume).
The YBA brand
The first use of the term ‘young British artists’ to describe the work of Hirst and these other young artists was by Michael Corris in Artforum, May 1992. The acronym ‘YBA’ was coined later in 1996 in Art Monthly magazine. The label turned out to be a powerful brand recognised worldwide and a useful marketing tool for the artists associated with it (as well as for British art generally in the 1990s). One of the features that defines the YBAs is their ‘can do’ entrepreneurial approach to showing and marketing their work. This can be seen in ambitious exhibitions such as Freeze organised by Hirst and his contemporaries, as well as in ventures such as the Pharmacy restaurant opened in Notting Hill in 1998 and backed by Hirst, and The Shop set up in an empty shop in East London by artists Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas in order to market their work.
Damien Hirst exhibition
This exhibition, which was on display at Tate Modern in 2012 was thefirst substantial survey of Hirst’s work in a British institution and brings together key works from over twenty years. Read the room guide and watch the accompanying videos to the exhibition.
The idea of titling it For the Love of God came from my mother who used to say that whenever I had crazy ideas
Damien Hirst discusses the thoughts and processes behind For the Love of God, a diamond-covered skull and one of his most iconic works.
Damien Hirst: Pharmacy learning resource
Explore Pharmacy – a room-sized installation which recreates a pharmacy to explore the theme of life and death. Although created with students in mind, this resource provides a useful introduction for anyone interested in exploring Hirst’s ideas and work.
Watch curator Helen Little discuss what else was happening at the time when the YBA artists emerged on the art scene.
She’s (Emin) a celebrity in her own right, her art is her persona, it’s a form of self-portraiture really.
Louisa Buck, Art critic
In 2007 Tracey Emin represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, watch the reactions of art critics, artists and professionals to her work.
An uncooked perspective on the nature of sex
Read our Tate Etc. article where British philosopher A.C. Grayling challenges the notion that the only aim of Sarah Lucas’ work is to shock and nauseate.
Damien Hirst’s Shark: Nature, Capitalism and the Sublime
This Tate paper looks at Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living 1991 which contains a preserved shark and explores the longer cultural resonance of sharks as exemplars of the natural sublime.
Audio Arts: Damien Hirst, From Cradle to the Grave
Listen to a recording of Damien Hirst in conversation with Norman Rosenthal and William Furlong in 2003
Sarah Lucas in conversation with Sadie Coles
Video recording of YBA artist Sarah Lucas discussing her ideas, processes and works with gallerist Sadie Coles.
Tracey Emin discusses The Shop
In 1993 Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas took over an empty shop on Bethnal Green Road in East London for six months and sold their works from the space. In this video Tracey Emin discusses the project.