Britart: Young British Artists

written by Neil on August 31, 2012 in Europeana Art and Feature story with one Comment

The Young British Artists, or YBAs are a group of neo-conceptual artists led by Damien Hirst and founded in London during the 1980s.

“In an artwork you’re always looking for artistic decisions, so an ashtray is perfect. An ashtray has got life and death.”
– Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst’s ‘The Inescapable Truth’ at The Tate Modern, London, UK. Photo by Chris Goldberg (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Damien Hirst exhibition. Photo by Hector Garcia (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The contemporary art movement originally consisted of artists who graduated from London’s Goldsmith College under the tuition of conceptual artists Michael Craig-Martin and Richard Wentworth, among others. The acronym term “YBAs” (or “yBa”) was not coined until 1996 in Art Monthly magazine, fast becoming a historical term.

‘A carpet of roses’ by Anya Gallaccio. Photo by Beth M527 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Like the pop movement before it, artists were not afraid to mix unconventional media with art, including video, photography, painting, collage, sculpture and installation pieces. However, this movement goes far beyond the restrictions of pop art, allowing for any means of expression through any possible medium.

Many YBAs are notably famous for their controversial shock tactics, use of use of throwaway materials, wild-living, and an attitude of both oppositional and entrepreneurial. The YBA label proved to be a powerful brand and marketing tool, but it concealed huge diversity between the artists involved. Despite this, the liberal approach has led many to question the fundamentals of creativity, and what actually classifies as ‘art’.

“I’ve been slagged off completely by the art world.”
– Tracey Emin

‘My Bed’ by Tracey Emin. Photo by Truus, Bob & Jan of Holland (CC BY-NC 2.0)

At its peak during the mid-1990s, the movement gained international media coverage, with notable key works including ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ by Damian Hirst, and ‘My Bed’ by Tracey Emin, a dishevelled double bed surrounded by detritus.

Thanks to the Government Art Collection , you can explore work from many of the YBAs through Europeana – to get you started we’ve made a selection of some of the most prominent figures of the movement: