Short Bit: Alfredo Jaar

“The Eyes of Gutete Emerita” 2004

Currently a large portion of artist Alfredo Jaar’s oeuvre is on display at Kiasma titled “Tonight no Poetry Will Serve” it opened on April 11 and will show through September 2014. Named after a poem by the late American writer Adrienne Rich (1929-2012), an important source of inspiration for the artist, the retrospective occupies two floors comprising more than 40 works from 1974–2014. It features real ground-breakers like “Lament of the Images,” “The Silence of Nduwayezu,” and “The Sound of Silence”. But the premium piece is Jaar’s re-creation of “One Million Finnish Passports;” the striking and historic landmark work shown originally in Helsinki in 1995 and was destroyed right after the exhibition.

The Chilean native has lived in New Year since 1982, gaining international fame as an ethical artist, architect and filmmaker with installations and public interventions. The overriding theme in Jaar’s body of work is social morality. He challenges us to question the practicality of our principles, revealing the holes in Western society’s attitudes regarding righteousness and social justice. His large scale installations, films, photographs, objects, and neon works examine human and social morals by negotiating the balance between our responsibility for ensuring self well-being and that of others. With art he tackled the Rwanda holocaust, gold mining in Brazil, toxic pollution in Nigeria, and immigration issues between Mexico and the United States. In a lot of the works, Jaar contrasts light and dark to expose moral disparities or focuses on eyes as points of entry into another person’s experience, effectively eliciting empathy and real compassion. Though he also distances the viewer from the human aspect to provide “room” for reflection upon the full implication of a problem, the spread of injustice in situations like immigration and persecution. Many of Jaar’s works are extended meditations or elegies, including videos like Muxima (2006) that portrays the extreme contrast between poverty stricken Angola and the oil economy and “The Gramsci Trilogy” (2004–05). The latter is a series of installations documenting Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s imprisonment under Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

details from Biennial exhibition

He has exhibited individual works in Finland in both the 1995 and 2011 ARS exhibitions and in 2010 as part of the Capital of Culture year in Turku Archipelago. Among Jaar’s many awards are a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award (2000); a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (1987); and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987); and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1985). He has had major exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2005); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome (2005); Massachusetts Institute of Technology, List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (1999); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1992). Jaar emigrated from Chile in 1981, at the height of Pinochet’s military dictatorship. His exhibition at Fundación Telefonica in Chile, Santiago (2006), was his first in his native country in twenty-five years. Jaar lives and works in New York.

SEGMENT  Art21 follows and films Jaar in his native Chile during a major retrospective of his work, which he shares for the first time with the Chilean public.

http://www.pbs.org/art21/watch-now/segment-alfredo-jaar-in-protest

 

“Lament of the Images, version 2,” 2002

“Lament of the Images, version 1″ 2002

From Rwanda project

“Geometry of Consciousness” 2010

“Lament of the Images, detail” 2002

“Gold in the Morning”

“Real Pictures”

Odalisque

Odalisque paintings were hyper-pervasive icons of 19th-20th century art. These paintings are characterized by the reclining, nude, exoticised female figure surrounded by patterned decorations and furnishings Europeans believed to be emblematic of a Far East harem. In the 19th century, the West became very interested in Eastern countries and the Middle East— Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and Persia (now Iran) — and became fascinated by harems. As a result, it became very popular for European women to dress up in far East costume for portrait paintings. Collectively, this is trend in art is referred to as Orientalism. Many artists visited these countries and began to paint scenes with models dressed in foreign garb that romanticized harems, exploiting women as sex objects by “othering” them with a foreign ethnicity. Some scenes painted by Orientalists were true to life, but most odalisque portraits were exaggerations of harems that failed to provide a comprehensive understanding of Far East culture.

Europeans believed and perpetuated the falsehood that harems were orgy-tastic retreats where wealthy, royal men kept their mistresses who were, of course, experts in sexual gratification; specifically experts on how to sexually gratify a man (in conservative European culture sex was not meant for proper women to enjoy). In reality, harems are far less explicate though no less interesting. Typically the harem housed several dozen women, including wives, the Sultan’s mother, daughters and other female relatives, as well as eunuchs and the slave girls who serve the aforementioned women. Sometimes the sons of the Sultan also lived in the Harem until they were of an appropriate age to appear in the public and administrative areas of the palace. Basically the harem was merely the private living quarters of the sultan and his family within the palace complex. It was also commonly said in Ottoman culture that “the empire was ruled from the harem” which indicates the political power these royal women yielded in their own right. Two of the most powerful political figures in Ottoman history were women, Hürrem Sultan (wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, mother of Selim II) and Kösem Sultan (mother of Murad IV). So clearly harems were the sacred seats of power from which these influential women lived and ruled and where caed for— they did NOT spend all of their time doting on the sultan’s every need. These were NOT royal whore houses.

The French word “odalisque” originates from the Turkish odalık. It’s Turkish root “oda” means “chamber” and refers to a chamber girl or attendant. These attendants were not only unpracticed in the sexual arts, they did not have the privilege of sexually pleasing the sultan. They were slaves at the lower end of the Ottoman hierarchy, responsible for tending to the sultan’s wives, daughters, and concubines. There was small chance that an odalık might distinguish herself and join the concubine realm, but it was not common occurrence. The shift in the term’s definition as it transitioned from Turkish to French to it’s English usage, illustrates how Europeans objectified Far East culture, belittling and exploiting these people. By the 18th century the term “odalisque “referred to the eroticized artistic genre in which a model, a European woman posing as an eastern woman, lies on her side on display for the spectator. Instead of building a cultural exchanged based on a comprehensible understanding and equality, these Europeans paintings belittled these people and their culture for entertainment

Western artists were so taken with the idea of a sex retreat that their paintings of harem slave girls ALWAYS insinuated a woman experienced and used for sexual gratification of a royal male ruler, a male viewer.  Therefore we have a prevailing assumption that odalisques were exotic objects of inspiration for artists of the Orientalist school. These artists began to combine European standards of beauty with the inappropriate European concept of a harem woman, so we have an exhaustive number of paintings bearing the title of Odalisque from the 1800s to as late as the 1920s. Some notable artists were Henri Matisse, Eugène Delacroix, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Lord Frederic Leighton, Richard Parkes Bonington, American Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Italian Ignace Spiridon and Spaniard Mariano Fortuny. Common themes in many of the paintings were turbans, striped harem pants, embroidered or beaded slippers, fur pelts, tasselled pillows and expressions or poses of willingness.  In these paintings, the woman was put on display purely for the viewing pleasure of the male gaze. Unlike Sargent’s Madam X who commanded her sexuality, these serpentine odalisques were submissive and compliant, offering themselves shamelessly for the pleasure of male viewing.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the most famous odalisque painting pretty much ever. French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ 1814 The Grand Odalisque was a royal commission. Ingres produced with his usual stunning clarity an elongated and reclining nude with her long back turned toward the viewer. Wearing a turban she glances passively and expressionless over her shoulder as she lies on a divan, surrounded by rich blue fabrics which serve to contrast against her creamy flesh. Of course the model looks more like a classic French beauty than a true  descendant of Middle Eastern, which makes her turban all the more ridiculous to look upon (or maybe the farce is ridicules only to me). I must confess I hate, and have always hated this painting. Matisse’s Post-Imresionists paintings of odalisque women at least had a charm about them due to his experimental approach and having his models act out roles (he always often used actual foreign women at times) but Ingres’s doe-eyed and vacant woman has always irked me. She is bland and at the same time eery and alien. Its a strange combination that is as off putting as the overly ornate divan. Her torso is a few vertebrae too long and I find it painful when I look too long at the strained curve of her back and tension in her shoulder and arm area. Oh and the anatomy in her legs is wrong too, the left knee, the one under her, should be bent upwards like that with foot resting on calve and I think that one is awkward too. I will not deny that this is a remarkable painting for its draftsmanship, structure, attention of detail, light, contrast, composition, blah blah blah, but its subject disturbs me. This woman is clearly a fantasy, a grotesque overly worked fantasy. But I will let you decide for yourself.

Ingres, “La Grande Odalisque” 1814

 

For comparison here are a few of Matisse’s odalisque paintings from the Post-Imressionist era. Though they are still Orientalist in theme, but I find that I admire these paintings for the way Matisse captures a moment with the women. I get the impression that these are women with personalities and responsibilities that give them a life beyond being viewed. They are still exaggerations of reality, but I believe Matisse was more concerted with his expirmental treatment of painting techniques than to exploiting a culture or women’s sexuality. Plus I love his brilliant color and pattern.

Matisse, 1920’s

 

Matisse, 1920’s

 

Matisse, 1920’s

Matisse, 1920’s

Maud Lewis

Maud Lewis, Three Black Cats, 1960

Folk art has an undeserved reputation of being plain, uninspired, dull, or the worst of these “crafty.”  “Folk” is confused with “unskilled” which is not accurate. Folk means the art was produced for utilitarian purposes by an uneducated, in fine arts, creator. It also encompasses art by an indigenous culture. Because the artist did not receive a form art education, the images may lack traditional (Western) rules of proportion and perspective, but that does not make these works any less valuable, significant, skilled, or enjoyable.

Take for instance the art from Maud Lewis. I just can not get enough her her vivid color pallet and simple but emotive style. Born Maud Dowley in South Ohio, Nova Scotia on March 7, 1903, this artist began painting small Christmas cards to for her husband to sell in an effort to overcome their poverty. Together they lived in a small one room house with sleeping loft, without benefit of electricity or plumbing. Her husband Everett made a living selling fish from door to door, and her Christmas cards became popular with his customers who eagerly bought them as gifts. Eventually Maud began to paint on small canvas, none of her paintings are larger than 5 ft x 1 ft.6 inches, and expanded her subjects to include birds, insects, flowers, landscapes, oxen, and other animals. All of her paintings are bright and feature  a unique, flat stylization of her own invention. She never mixed colors; her technique was to first draw an outline and then apply pure paint straight from the tube. She also painted birds, flowers and butterflies on various parts of the tiny house in which they lived, and many articles within the house.

Maud Lewis’s house

As a child, Maud suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis resulting in physical deformities of her hands and face. Despite discomfort and sometimes pain, Maud painted through it, and eventually her work gained a localized following, and between 1945-1950 people began to come to her home seeking her paintings. She sold them for a modest two or three dollar, and only in the last three or four years of her life did they begin to sell for seven to ten dollars. She achieved national attention as a result of an article in the “Star Weekly” in 1964 and in 1965 she was featured on CBC-TV’s Telescope. Unfortunately, her arthritis prevented her from completing many of the orders she was inundated with. In recent years, her paintings have sold at auction for ever increasing prices. Two of her paintings have sold for more than $16,000, and her highest seller was “A Family Outing” going for $22,200.00. The painting was sold at a Bonham’s auction in Toronto Nov 30, 2009.

In the last year of her life, Maud Lewis stayed in one corner of her house, painting as often as she could while traveling back and forth to the hospital. She died in Digby, Nova Scotia on July 30, 1970. A large collection of Maud’s work can be found in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which has restored her original house and installed it in the gallery as part of a permanent Maud Lewis exhibit. Most of the Maud Lewis paintings on display are on loan to the AGNS. A steel memorial sculpture based on her house has been erected at the original site of her house in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. An imitation Maud Lewis house has been built a private museum in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

There are several books about this incredible artist, a particularly good one is The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis, and three National Film Board of Canada documentaries: Maud Lewis – A World Without Shadows(1997), The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis (1998) and I Can Make Art … Like Maud Lewis (2005), a short film in which a group of sixth graders are inspired by Lewis’ work to create their own folk art. In 2009, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in conjunction with Greg Thompson Productions presented a play on Maud Lewis at the AGNS. A Happy Heart: The Maud Lewis Story was written and produced by Greg Thompson, the same writer and producer who brought Marilyn: Forever Blonde to the AGNS in 2008. Thompson wrote the one woman play on Maud while in Nova Scotia in 2008 after being inspired by this incredible woman.

SO now do you think “folk” means “bad” art? Its just like assuming a BA means you’ll make great art! Theres a great quote from Picasso that I can not recall off the top of my head, but in it he claims that after his formal art education he realized that in order to make great art advances he would need to “spend the rest of my life learning how to paint like a child.” There is some wisdom in that thought.

Damien Hirst and Authorship

Hirst, 2014 GQ cover

A few weeks ago I attended a pretty great lecture about copyright issues artists often face. I kind of forgot about it until I did that post on the YBAs and found out a lot more about Hirst and the suspicions of idea stealing casting shade on his work, reminding me of the copyright lecture. So I decided to investigate a little further into these claims, since it was too much of a coincidence to ignore.

But first a quick summary of Hirst’s rise to stardom:

Damien Steven Hirst (born in Bristol on June 7, 1965) has managed to stand out among his YBA peers by becoming a savvy entrepreneur marketing his art. He was first inspired by Francis Davison after seeing his exhibit at the Hayward Gallery in staged by Julian Spalding in 1983. Davison made abstract collages from torn and cut coloured paper to which Hirst responded with “blew me away.” Well Hirst was so blown away that for the next two years he claims he modeled his own work after Davidson’s collages.  Hirst was then admitted to Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London in 1986, after two attempts, where he studied through 1989. In school Hirst was again inspired, this time by Micheal Craig-Martin when he saw his senior tutor’s piece An Oak Tree.

But Hirst’s art really got attention when death became his focus, providing finally the platform for his great success, and his chance to outshine the rest of the YBAs. While a student, Hirst was placed at a mortuary, and it was most likely this experience that compelled him to explore the theme of death and internal structures of the body in his most well-known works. His art features an menagerie’s worth of animals, dead and often dissected, preserved in formaldehyde. Probably the most familiar of these is a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a large vitrine (clear display case) titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Hirst also made “spin paintings,” created on a round, rotating surface, and “spot paintings”, which are rows of randomly coloured circles created by his assistants.He is internationally recognized as the richest UK artist.  Some compare him to Jasper Johns and Jeff Koons in his ability to command huge prices for his works.

Hirst continued to do well by selling prints and accessories bearing his signature styles and images through his company, Other Criteria which he co-founded in 2005. But his biggest cash-in took place in Septemeber 2008 at Sotheby’s, London, where Hirst took an unconventional tactic in art exhibiting and auctioned his work directly to the public; by-passing his usual galleries. This two day auction, called “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever,” exceeded all predictions and brought in roughly $198 million for 218 items. He broke his own sale record with £10.3 million for The Golden Calf (an animal with 18-carat gold horns and hooves, preserved in formaldehyde) as well as the record for a one-artist auction— by ten fold!  Hirst was undoubtedly pleased, though according to the Independent the artist was not on board with the idea at first and had to be convinced by his business advisor.

 

Hirst, from his Butterfly Paintings

But his rapid accumulation of wealth and prominence did not shield him from critical attacks questioning his authenticity. Since 1999, Hirst has been called a plagiarizer in articles by journalists and artists. In 2010, Charles Johnson described in The Jackdaw 15 cases accusing Hirst of plagiarizing other work. Examples included Joseph Cornell’s claim that Hirst’s Pharmacy was a copy of a pice he made in 1943; Lori Precious who had made stained-glass window effects from butterfly wings from 1994 several years before Hirst; and John LeKay who did a crucified sheep in 1987. A spokesperson for Hirst said Charles Johnson’s article was “poor journalism” and that Hirst would be making a “comprehensive” rebuttal of the claim.

But many other critics point out that Hirst’s spin paintings and installations, particularly one of a ball on a jet of air, are barely altered versions of pieces made in the 1960s, hardly original. And the accusations just kept on coming.

Chef Marco Pierre White said Hirst stole from his Rising Sun, on display in the restaurant Quo Vadis, to make Butterflies on Mars. In 2000, Hirst was sued for breach of copyright over his sculpture, Hymn, which was a 20-foot (6.1 m), six ton, enlargement of his son Connor’s 14″ Young Scientist Anatomy Set, designed by Norman Emms, 10,000 of which are sold a year by Hull-based toy manufacturer Humbrol for £14.99 each. Hirst was forced through legal proceedings to prove his authorship which led to an out-of-court settlement requiring him to pay an undisclosed sum to two charities, Children Nationwide and the Toy Trust as well as a “good will payment” to Emms. This “charitable donation” was much less than what Emms hoped for, but Hirst also agreed to restrictions on further reproductions of his sculpture.

In 2006, Robert Dixon, a graphic artist, former research associate at the Royal College of Art and author of ‘Mathographics’, alleged that Hirst’s print Valium had “unmistakable similarities” to a design from his book. Hirst’s manager contested but his refutal did more damage than good. This explanation was that the origin of Hirst’s piece came from the book The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry (1991) not realizing this was one place where Dixon’s design had been published.

In 2007, artist John LeKay  again accused Hirst of stealing his ideas, but this time asked only that Hirst acknowledge his him as an effluence. LeKay said he was once a friend of Damien Hirst between 1992 and 1994 and had given him a “marked-up duplicate copy” of a Carolina Biological Supply Company catalogue, adding “You have

Hirst, “For the Love of God”

no idea how much he got from this catalogue. The Cow Divided is on page 647 – it is a model of a cow divided down the centre, like his piece.” This refers to Hirst’s work Mother and Child, Divided—a cow and calf cut in half and placed in formaldehyde. LeKay’s goes on to say Hirst copied the idea of For the Love of God from a crystal skull he made in 1993, and pleaded for credit for his work saying, “I would like for Damien to acknowledge that ‘John really did inspire the skull and influenced my work a lot.'” Hirst’s copyright lawyer Paul Tackaberry reviewed images of LeKay’s and Hirst’s work and saw no basis for copyright infringement claims in a legal sense, but it does make one wonder about the legitimacy of LeKay’s accusation and the rest of  the allegations charging Hirst of plagiarizing. It seems that Hirst built a career in art making by not only sage marketing and promoting strategies (the man was undeniably an innovative entrepreneur) but also by deftly navigating the thin space between appropriation and stealing.

Finally, Jim Starr’s upheaval over Hirst’s GQ cover shot of Rihanna as the snaked-headed monster Medusa is the most recent blow to his authorship. Starr claims to have been the first to “portray the sexy snake-haired woman.” But I take issue with Starr on this one. By now Hirst has become an easy target, but Starr has little backing to his charge since there is an entire cannon of images of Medusa that outdate both Hirst and Starr. I suspect plagiarism claims are redundant when artists have been depicting something for more than 2,500 years. She was a popular icon through out Greece and even Carvaggio was inspired by her snaky charm enough to make her an unlikely icon of baroque art in the 17th century. In fact, Carvaggio’s Medusa, a “portrait” of the monster painted on a shield, is one of the most incisive images of myth ever created. So in this instance I will charge Hirst, and Starr as well, of being guilty of  creating dull art, ordinary, uninspired, and redundant of better works.

 

 

Art Term: Perspective

perspective

The term perspective used in the graphic arts is an approximation of distance/depth/space on a flat surface (2D) of an image as it is seen by the eye (3D). The two most characteristic features of perspective are that objects are drawn smaller as their distance from the observer increases and foreshortened (the size of an object’s dimensions along the line of sight are relatively shorter than dimensions across the line of sight). All of the angles within the image will converge together as an imaginary point in the distance replicating the effect of the vanishing point of a horizon line.

Another way to think about linear perspective is to imagine looking out a window. Within the painting, linear perspective mimics light passing from the scene through the “window” (the painting), to the viewer’s eye. Except the image is created on the flat surface of the canvas or paper, and there is no receding background, just the illusion of depth. The adjustment of size between objects and the trick of angling edges of objects toward the “horizon” creates an illusion, ergo perspective, of depth and distance.

Before the practice of perspective, early paintings and drawings sized objects and characters hierarchically according to their spiritual or thematic importance, not their distance from the viewer, and they did not use foreshortening. This is called “vertical perspective” in which the most important figures are shown as the highest and largest in the composition. They are devoid of space and indicate relative positioning of compositional elements with overlapping and flattened figures. This common in paintings from the Parthenon Marbles and in palace paintings of Ancient Egypt’s royal families. Members of the royal family and gods would be the largest among the figures and distance can only be suggested by placing the “nearer” figures below the larger figures. Byzantine paintings also follow the design of vertical perspective.

While linear perspective was known to the early Romans and Greeks, the means of employing this art device were lost to the Italians. It was only in the early 15th century, right at the start of the Italian Renaissance, that linear perspective became the standard. The architect Filippo Brunelleschi is credited with the “discovery” of the mathematical laws of linear perspective. Brunelleschi observed that when you have a fixed, single point of view, parallel lines seem to converge at together at an imaginary point in the distanceHe then applied this idea of a single vanishing point to a canvas, and discovered a method for calculating -and drawing – depth. He was able to demonstrate its basic principles, including the concept of the vanishing point, with two panels and a mirror. The first panel was a painting depicting the Florentine Baptistery as viewed frontally from the western portal of the Palazzo Vecchio cathedral (at the time it was unfinished), and second shows the Palazzo Vecchio as seen obliquely from its northwest corner. 

 

fig. 1

Brunelleschi drilled a hole drilled through the centric vanishing point of the Baptistery panel allowing the viewer to peer through from behind. Brunelleschi intended that the viewer stand in front of the real Baptistry with a mirror in between the scene and the panel. As the mirror was moved into and out of view, the observer saw the striking similarity between the actual view of the Baptistery, and the reflected view of the painted Baptistery image. Moving the mirror proved perspective through virtual overlay; through the lack of change between the image and reality. On his panel, Brunelleschi used silver leaf in the sky to portray its luminosity and drifting clouds. Brunelleschi wanted his new perspective “realism” to be tested not by comparing the painted image to the actual Baptistery but to its reflection in a mirror according to the Euclidean laws of geometric optics. This feat vividly showed artists how they might paint their images, not merely as flat two-dimensional shapes, but more like three-dimensional structures just as mirrors reflect them. Daly, both panels of Brunelleschi’s have since been lost.

Here is a link to a youtube video that demonstrates Brunelleschi’s experiment:

 

The YBAs

YBA=Young British Artists. Both title and acronym refer to a loose group of visual artists who began to exhibit together in London 1988. The first use of the term “young British artists” was by Michael Corris in ArtForum (May 1992) and the acronym  “YBA” (or “yBa”) was coined by Simon Ford in  1996 in his feature “Myth Making” for the March issue of Art Monthly magazine. Since then it has manifested into a historic term because most of the YBAs were born in the mid-1960s, with an active period from the 1980s to the late 1990s, though many still make art today— just not large group exhibits. Though strictly speaking, it includes only those artists who showed at Freeze, or Sensation. However, the name is also used in a broader sense to embrace all progressive, avant-garde British artists who achieved recognition during the late 1980s and 90s. A new termPost-YBAs has been coined to describe British artists emerging in the 2000s. They include Darren Almond, Mike Nelson, Tim Noble, Oliver Payne, Nick Relph, Eva Rothschild, Simon Starling, David Thorpe, Sue Webster, Carey Young, and others.

Most of the YBAs graduated from Goldsmiths in the BA Fine Art course in the late 1980s; studying under the likes of Michael Craig-Martin and Richard Wentworth who undoubtably had a huge impact on the approach to art making these young artists made after graduating. From the humble start of exhibiting in warehouses their innovative and provocative shows quickly gained popularity, attracting the attention cultural royalty like Charles Saatchi. The post-war authority of things socially acceptable, Saatchi  invested much of his money in supporting and collecting his favorites like Damien Hirst and Rich Wentworth. Saatchi even went beyond funding and collaborated with Hirst and Wentworth in organizing exhibitions. Art from the YBAs also provided the catalysis so desperately needed to rejuvenate the British art scene, and even starting artistic atmospheres where previously there had been none. 

The six exhibitions the serve to unify this loose group of art affiliates were held between March 1992 and November 1996 at the Saatchi Gallery, London. The genesis of the YBAs can be traced to a 1988 warehouse show in London,  entitled Frieze and it was curated by none other than Damien Hirst. Hirst exhibited works by himself and 15 of his fellow Goldmiths’ students, including Angela Bulloch, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Richard Patterson and Fiona Rae. Subsequent group exhibitions cemented the artists’ reputations for independence, savvy entrepreneurial skills and the ability to manipulate the media. The warehouse show Modern Medicine (1990) in particular demonstrated the artists skill at transforming different media and was also curated by Hirst, but in this instance he partnered with journalist Carl Freedman (b 1965) Later Freedman curated Minky Manky (1995; London, S. London A.G.). But the consolidation of the artists’ status was cemented in 1995 with a large-scale group exhibition Brilliant! held at the Walker Art Center a respected art museumin Minneapolis, USA.

Rachel Whiteread, cast of an apartment complex, 1992

Works by Young British Artists include all forms of painting, a wide range of sculpture and assemblage, contemporary video and installation art, a variety of photography, and conceptual art.  Thus famous works of Britart have included: maggots and dead animals (Hirst); concrete casts of whole houses (Rachel Whiteread); a bed surrounded by highly personal detritus including condoms (Tracey Emin); found objects crushed by a steamroller (Cornelia Parker); elephant dung (Chris Ofili); and frozen blood (Marc Quinn) and many more varied materials. Numerous YBA works have also employed a number of controversial references some of which are such as Jenny Saville’s paintings of grossly obese nude female forms and the Chapman brothers’ savagely mutilated shop-window dummies. They force us to consider these topics with shock tactics and they were quite successful. Other artists made conceptual video art like Mark Wallinger’s Turner Prize exhibit, a 2-hour film of a person wandering around an art gallery in a bear suit; or Gillian Wearing’s video of actors dressed in police uniforms who stood still for an hour in total silence; or Martin Creed’s installation of a white room with a single light bulb blinking off and on. Despite the varied showcase of subject matter, styles, and medium, there remains a common “anything-goes attitude” to materials and the creative process. Their works also share clear influence from Marcel Duchamp in the prominence given to conceptual art, found objects and unconventional, even humorous interpretations of everyday life.

Damien Hirst, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” a tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde, 1991

I also think they all model after Joseph Beuys in their experiments with positioning the artist within society, asking what is the artists’s purpose or message? Gavin considers how his art is influenced by time passing showing his work through the lens the future as if we are looking back at his work, and in some cases as though he were already deceased. Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (tiger shark, glass and steel, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.) also underscores the prospect of imminent death. Sarah Lucas’ Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab (photograph, fried eggs, kebab and table, 1992; London, Saatchi Gal.) asks us to consider issues of sexuality with food items foreign to the gallery environment. The signature pieces of Gavin Turk, like Cave (ceramic, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.), explore the relationship of the artist to his work and his public. Other aYBAs include Chris Ofili, Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread (featured in Freeze the first of Saatchi’s group exhibitions), Dinos and Jake Chapman and Ron Mueck.

Tracey Emin, “My Bed” 1999

Tracey Emin, “Tent”

Even  though the group enjoyed much success, YBAs were heavily criticized for their lack of craftsmanship and other artistic traits, by numerous art critics the composer Simon Rattle, and the playwright Tom Stoppard. But by and large the British public have enthusiastically embraced the YBAs for their contributions to the visual arts establishment. One reason for this, is that there works have rescued in almost every aspect Britain’s  contemporary art, significantly raising museum attendance figures in the process. They also contributed to the success of a whole new generation of contemporary galleries, including Jay Jopling’s White Cube, Victoria Miro, Karsten Schubert, Sadie Coles, Maureen Paley’s Interim Art, and Antony Wilkinson Gallery -as as increasing the circulation of contemporary British art magazines.

Another one of the best aspects of this group, in my opinion is the evident contributions of female artists. Gillian Wearing, Tracey Emin (nominated in 1999 Turner Prize for My Bed). Fiona Rae,  (1963 Untitled, Emergency Room) and Jenny Saville and more have all benefited from the publicity of associating with the group finding much success and a generally equal amount of respect and fame as their male peers as well as receiving respect from their male contemporaries.

Here is a listing of the artists that exhibited with the first two shows (the shows that bonded the group) and a list of additional artists who exhibited with the group at later dates.

Frieze Exhibitors:

Brilliant! Exhibitors:

Other YBAs

Marc Quin, “Kate Moss”

Damien Hirst, “Dot Painting”

 

Gavin Turk

 

Sarah Lucas, Spamaggedon (2004)

Gavin Turk, “Gavin Turk Takes the Biscuit” 2006