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A Short Guide to the Young British Artists
A closer look 28 Jul 2013

A Short Guide to the Young British Artists

In 1988, an exhibition named “Freeze” is organized in the Docklands district, South London. This exhibition shows the works of sixteen students from the Goldsmiths College of Art, an londoner art school. Since no gallery wanted to expose their works, they took the decision to create their own exhibition.

Pietà (first version) 1996 by Angus Fairhurst 1966-2008
©  Angus Fairhurs

In this small group we can find Angus Fairhust, Michael Landy, Fiona Rae but first and foremost the famous artist Damien Hirst. The exhibition sponsor Michael Craig-Martin, a Goldsmiths teacher, invited all his network to come and discover the exhibition, whom of them Norman Rosenthal, Nicholas Serota (president of the Tate) or also the collector Charles Saatchi. Even though “Freeze” failed in terms of media cover (except an article in The Guardian about Sasha Craddock), the exhibition offered the students the possibility to find some galleries to expose their works while waiting for the end of their studies.

© The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living

The expression “Young British Artist” appeared for the first time in 1992 and was the title of an exhibition organized by the Saatchi Gallery which presented the works of Rachel Whiteread or also the ones of Damien Hirst. During the first half of the 90s, Charles Saatchi played an essential role in the development of the artists of this generation. He financed the production of their work before buying them. This was at this moment that Damien Hirst became famous, not only to the art critics but also to the public. His most famous work “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” aroused several polemics.

In 1997, all the Young British Artists became known by the general public. Indeed, the very serious and legitimate Royal Academy of Art of London organized the exhibition “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection”. More than 110 works of art are exposed, among which “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With” of Tracy Emin or “The Holy Virgin Mary” of Chris Ofili. The exhibition encountered an important success among the public with more than 300 000 visitors and a big mediatic success notably because of the numerous polemics and debates which took place after the exhibition of some works which were considered as horrors by their opponents. It did not stop the exhibition from being welcomed with success in Berlin and in New York.

 © Everyone I Have Ever Slept with – Tracey Emin

After “Sensation”, the Young British Artists got an international visibility and some of them like, of course, Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin became real stars of the contemporary art. At the occasion of the opening of the “Contemporary Art” department, the Tate Modern exposed several works of the YBA and in the following years, the popularity of these artists constantly increased. More than the international success of Damien Hirst, we can also talk about Jake and Dinos Chapman whose creations were exhibited at the Tate, or also Tracey Emin who represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2007.

 © Chicken – Jake et Dinos Chapman