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Young British Artists

Young British Artists Collage

Started: Late 1980s

Summary of Young British Artists

The Young British Artists (YBAs) are a loosely-affiliated group who met in London in the late 1980s and participated in two of the most shocking exhibits of the late-20th century: Freeze (1988) and Sensation (1997). The group is known for their entrepreneurial spirit, their use of shock tactics, and their wild partying - especially during their 1990s heyday. The most financially successful YBAs are now some of the richest artists in the world, and remain brash and incredibly media-savvy - their choice of subject matter and perceived lack of artistic skill makes their work postmodern, but has been widely criticized in the media.

Key Ideas

The YBAs are notorious for their willingness to shock audiences with gratuitously violent imagery, brazen use of pornography, and their desire to push beyond what many consider the limits of decency. Derogatory UK tabloid press coverage was an important component of their success, as it was all most people knew of the group.
The works of the various YBA artists are characterized by their open approach to process and materials, something that can be attributed to the structure of the B.A. Fine Art program at Goldsmiths College where many of them studied. Their courses abandoned the traditional segregation of artistic training into painting, drawing, photography, and sculpture classes in favor of mixed studios.
YBA works fit well with the many postmodern experiments that dominated the art of the 1980s and 1990s in both Europe and America. Postmodernism is characterized by the breakdown of distinctions between high and low culture, the use of appropriation, a rejection of fine art materials, and a focus on spectacle. All of these elements can be found in the works of YBA artists.
Young British Artists Image


London in the 1980s lagged far behind New York and West Berlin as an art center. Architecturally dilapidated and widely economically deprived despite the growth of its finance industry, the British capital had far fewer contemporary galleries and little in the way of a postmodern art scene compared to its wealthier, more culturally edgy American and German counterparts. Artists in these countries were involved in cutting edge postmodern movements such as the Pictures Generation, Street art, and Neue Wilden, with nothing similar in London.

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