'The Gallery Dedicated To Lenticular Art And Photography'

Young British Artists; contemporary art

The YBA, or Young British Artist, movement emerged from a young group of artists who had attended the Goldsmiths and Royal College of Art fine arts courses in London during the late 1980s. They began their professional careers exhibiting together and using a range of controversial and attention grabbing tactics which leveraged considerable media attention.

The first of these exhibits came in 1988, led by artist Damien Hirst while he was still studying for his degree, establishing an approach of using very industrial locations such as warehouses and factories rather than the traditional gallery white cube. This came largely due to rejection from typical art gallery spaces, and a search for a cheap, anti-art space, which also happened to coincide with the Acid House party scene’s use of similar locations. The show didn’t break into the mainstream press, but established a pattern of location choices and an artist-as-curator dynamic which became a regular feature of the London art scene through the 1990s.

Wider attention began to come with two London warehouse shows in 1990, which managed to attract small £1000 sponsorships from several art world figures, including Charles Saatchi, who would go on to be a major patron of the movement. The media started noticing the artists even though the 1990 shows were not widely attended. Branding them as being somewhat pushy in their self promotion, but also admiring their tenacity and the quality of exhibition they were staging, which made conventional art galleries look somewhat stale in comparison.

Charles Saatchi and the Young British Artists movement

More established alternative galleries started providing the group with exhibition space, and Saatchi organised the Young British Art exhibition featuring artists like Hirst and Rachel Whiteread. He became one of Hirst’s major buyers, and sponsored and supported many of his contemporaries; it was essential support at a time of recession, and he helped popularise the movement with shows of his collection, taking place in a suitably industrial factory setting.

Exhibiting the YBA’s range of ambitious, conceptual, highly contemporary, and often controversial artworks took over Saatchi’s typical exhibitions of artists like Warhol, and it was all documented in great detail by the press. Artworks like Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde or Tracey Emin’s tent were widely discussed in popular culture, typically with a “but is it art?” genre headline. The same press also brought wide attention to the Turner Prize which awarded several artists in the group.

YBA group was well established in the minds of art galleries and critics by the mid-90s. Emin, Hirst, the Chapman’s, Marcus Harvey, Gavin Turk, and others had representation from major art dealers, and London’s Royal Academy was putting on exhibitions of work, which stirred yet more controversy.

Bringing art back to the mainstream through shock value

Debates over the quality of the work would rage for years; was it art, or more of an exercise in PR? Tabloid newspapers took joy in being offended by the artists’ desire to shock with violent and sexual imagery. As a movement there was little stylistic cohesion, besides a willingness to explore and utilise a diverse range of materials and media. Much like the modern art movement there were experiments in high versus low culture, everyday materials, appropriation and spectacle, calling to mind features of Dada, pop, conceptual art and much more.

The meaning of works was often ignored in favour of derision or adoration at the bizarreness, unpleasantness, or dullness or the subject; a shark in a tank, a rotting cow’s head, an unmade bed. Importantly though, it all put art in front of people, it got people talking, it inspired other young artists and gave incredible energy to British art and the London art scene, it also created a wider interest in contemporary and modern work which must certainly have contributed to today’s love of galleries like the Tate. Whether their work will be much remembered remains to be seen, but the moment will always be talked about.

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