In the late 1980s, a series of influential exhibitions brought the work of recent American artists to London, introducing local art students to the market-savvy ambition of the New York scene. Absorbing these lessons, a generation which became known as the Young British Artists, or YBAs, began to explore how such ideas could be adjusted to their own cultural context.
In his degree show at the Royal College of Art, Gavin Turk translated the self-promotional tactics of American artists into a recognisably British vernacular, the English Heritage blue plaque. In his self-portrait Pop, he assimilated Warhol’s iconic painting of Elvis as a cowboy and re-coded it to cast himself as Sid Vicious. In the same self-mythologising spirit, Tracey Emin’s debut show, entitled My Major Retrospective, comprised miniature versions of all her previous works.
The American emphasis on entrepreneurship and the rise of the artist/dealer found a very British counterpart in The Shop, opened in 1993 by Emin and Sarah Lucas on Bethnal Green Road. While the upstairs rooms were used as studios, the ground floor was given over to selling all manner of small-scale, handmade objects. The ramshackle, do-it-yourself aesthetic and frequently obscene nature of the items on offer represented a mocking alternative to the seriousness of contemporary art galleries. The lease lasted for six months. After The Shop closed, unsold stock was burned and its ashes preserved as a work of art in itself.
An early work by Damien Hirst, first enacted in 1992 at Cologne Art Fair, is titled Ingo, Torsen and involves a set of identical twins stationed in front of two of Hirst’s dot paintings. Their physical uniformity extends Warhol’s ideal of mass production to art, industry and nature.