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

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  • Damien Hirst, 'Mother and Child (Divided)' exhibition copy 2007 (original 1993)
    Damien Hirst

    Mother and Child (Divided) exhibition copy 2007 (original 1993)

    Presented by the artist 2007 © Damien Hirst
  • Tracey Emin 'My Bed' 1998
    Tracey Emin
    My Bed 1998
    © Tracey Emin
  • Sarah Lucas, 'Pauline Bunny' 1997
    Sarah Lucas
    Pauline Bunny 1997
    Mixed media
    object: 950 x 640 x 900 mm
    Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1998© Sarah Lucas
  • Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, 'The Last Night of the Shop 3.7.93' 1993
    Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas
    The Last Night of the Shop 3.7.93 1993
    Fabric and paper badges
    support: 1515 x 1350 mm
    Presented by the Factual Nonsense Trust and the family of Joshua Compston in memory of Joshua Compston 2000© Tracey Emin & Sarah Lucas
  • Gillian Wearing OBE, ''Everything is connected in life...'' 1992-3
    Gillian Wearing OBE
    'Everything is connected in life...' 1992-3
    Colour photograph on paper
    frame: 1325 x 925 x 45 mm
    image: 1190 x 790 mm
    Purchased 2000© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London
  • Christine Borland, 'Phantom Twins' 1997
    Christine Borland
    Phantom Twins 1997
    Leather, sawdust and replica foetal skulls
    Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1999© Christine Borland
  • Gary Hume, 'Water Painting' 1999
    Gary Hume
    Water Painting 1999
    Household paint on aluminium panel
    support: 3050 x 2440 x 21 mm
    Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2000© Gary Hume
  • Cornelia Parker, 'Thirty Pieces of Silver' 1988-9
    Cornelia Parker
    Thirty Pieces of Silver 1988-9
    Silver and metal
    Purchased with assistance from Maggi and David Gordon 1998© Cornelia Parker
  • Michael Landy, 'Cor! What a Bargain!' 1992
    Michael Landy
    Cor! What a Bargain! 1992
    © Michael Landy

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 LucasAngus 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
Michael Craig-Martin

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. 

YBAs in focus: Damien Hirst

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

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.

YBAs in context

Watch curator Helen Little discuss what else was happening at the time when the YBA artists emerged on the art scene.

Other perspectives

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.

YBAs in detail

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.

YBAs for kids

This blog post and game are a fun and simple way to introduce the work of the YBAs to kids, whether in the classroom or at home.

Who is Damien Hirst?
…and why does he put animals in tanks? This blog post is an fun and informative introduction to Damien Hirst. 

Tate Kids: Spin game
Get kids to create their own digital abstract masterpiece, inspired by Hirst’s spin artworks.

Related glossary terms

Artist-curatorfound object, anti-art